US Open 2023: Highlights from an unpredictable men's tournament

Novak Djokovic grabbed another piece of history on Sunday -- in a tournament full of remarkable moments. Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

NEW YORK -- Novak Djokovic altered the tennis record books again Sunday, winning his fourth US Open title and his 24th Grand Slam 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 over No. 3 Daniil Medvedev and tying Australian Margaret Court for the most major victories across all eras. The 36-year-old Serbian is now one singles title ahead of Serena Williams and owns the most major victories of any player in the Open era.

"It obviously means the world to me," Djokovic said during the on-court trophy presentation. "To make the history of this sport is something truly remarkable and special in every possible way and in every meaning of the word 'special.'"

Two years ago, the 27-year-old Russian upset Djokovic in this final and ended his run at becoming just the third man to achieve the calendar Grand Slam, winning all four majors in a calendar year. This time, Djokovic was superb in capturing his third Grand Slam title this year. He lost only the Wimbledon final to Carlos Alcaraz. On Monday, Djokovic will replace Alcaraz at the top of the world rankings.

"I had the childhood dream at 7 or 8 to become the best and win the Wimbledon trophy," Djokovic said. "Then I started to dream new dreams and set new goals, but I never imagined I would be talking about 24 Slams."

But Djokovic wasn't the only story in New York. A lot happened in the two weeks leading up to Sunday's historic final. Here are our round-by-round highlights from a memorable men's draw.

First round: The return to form

Dominic Thiem def. Alexander Bublik 6-3, 6-2, 6-4

The former world No. 3 and 2020 US Open champion, Thiem has struggled with a devastating right wrist injury but won his first Grand Slam match in 2½ years. The achievement wasn't lost on the Grandstand crowd. "I think the people are really appreciating the comeback from the injury," Thiem said afterward. "I have the feeling many people know that it's not easy coming back."

Entering New York, Thiem had lost his previous six matches at Slams. A third-round win over Australian Nick Kyrgios at the 2021 Australian Open was his last major win until this one last Monday. "Since the injury, I have played many tournaments," Thiem said. "I did many, many practice sessions. I also gave a lot of load on the wrist again. So it's completely fine. But the mental side was not that easy to restore like the arm was."

Thiem lost in the second round to American Ben Shelton.

Michael Mmoh completes epic comeback to beat John Isner

Michael Mmoh comes back from two sets down to beat fellow American John Isner in the second round of the US Open.

Second round: The retirement party

Michael Mmoh def. John Isner 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (7)

Isner announced he would retire after this US Open, which meant a loss here would be the final singles match of his career. And the 38-year-old did not go out without a fight. The career ace leader, Isner is known for his behemoth serves and for winning the longest match in tennis history -- 11 hours and five minutes over three days at Wimbledon in 2010. After winning the first two sets against fellow American Mmoh, Isner lost to the 25-year-old in a close five-setter.

"This is why I've worked as hard as I have my whole life, to play in atmospheres like this," Isner said after the match. "I might not win them all, as we know, just like today. To play in front of this crowd and have the support I've had is pretty special. I never imagined myself having this much success for this long."

Mmoh lost in the third round to Brit Jack Draper.

Novak Djokovic rallies to defeat Laslo Djere in 5-set marathon

Novak Djokovic rallies to defeat Laslo Djere in a five-set marathon to advance to the fourth round of the US Open.

Third round: The heart-stopper

Novak Djokovic def. Laslo Djere 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3

Djokovic entered this tournament aware of the assignment: make the final and try, for a second time, to tie Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slams. Two sets into his third-round match against the 28-year-old Serbian, it seemed Djokovic might crack under the pressure. But if anyone has the endurance to gut out a nearly four-hour, five-set win on Ashe, it's the 23-time Slam champ. With the win, he avoided what would have been his earliest exit here since 2006.

"I think the message is sent to the rest of the field that obviously I'm still able to play five sets deep at night," Djokovic said after the match. "Coming from two sets down always sends a strong message to the future opponents. At the same time, I'm not really wanting to be in this position, to be honest. I prefer a straight-set win. Hopefully I can get back on that track in the next match."

Spoiler alert: He didn't drop another set all tournament.

Zverev outlasts Sinner in 5-set marathon to advance at US Open

Alexander Zverev takes match point to win in five sets vs. Jannik Sinner and advance to the US Open quarterfinals.

Fourth round: The survivor

Alexander Zverev def. Jannik Sinner 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3

It was the longest match of the tournament, and after four hours and 41 minutes, No. 12 Zverev -- who missed eight months after injuring his ankle in a semifinal against Rafael Nadal at the 2022 French Open -- closed out the match at 1:30 a.m. ET.

"I guess I can say I'm back, right?" Zverev said after the match, which was disrupted in the fourth set when a fan seated behind chair umpire James Keothavong yelled before Zverev served. "He just said the most famous Hitler phrase there is in this world," Zverev said to Keothavong. "It's not acceptable." The fan was removed from the stadium and play restarted.

"Last year when I wasn't able to play, this is exactly what I missed: playing until 1:30 in front of a packed crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium. There's nothing better."

With the win, Zverev booked a spot in the semifinals, where he lost in three sets to Carlos Alcaraz.

Unranked Shelton knocks off No. 10 Tiafoe to reach semis

Ben Shelton celebrates as he clinches a spot in the semifinals with a win over Frances Tiafoe.

Quarterfinals: The all-American upset

Ben Shelton def. Frances Tiafoe 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2

Shelton's 149 mph serves. A wild third set that featured six breaks in the first eight games. His "dialed in" phone call celebration. This late-night stunner had it all, and after the match, Shelton was the last American man standing in the men's singles draw. "I love to see American tennis going in a great direction and tennis in general going in a great direction," Shelton said.

A star in college tennis and the 2022 NCAA singles champion, Shelton, who left the University of Florida last year to pursue a pro career, was not the American anyone predicted to outlast his compatriots. But his run was one of the most entertaining of the tournament and filled with potential for the future. "I learned a lot about myself these two weeks, knowing how deep I can go, how deep I can dig," Shelton said after losing to Djokovic in the next round. "It's such a mental sport. I found a place where I can operate and still be calm and clear-minded, but be a fierce competitor."

Medvedev topples Alcaraz to advance to US Open final

Daniil Medvedev slams home the volley to take the match over Carlos Alcaraz and advance to the US Open men's singles final.

Semifinals: The surprise finalist

Daniil Medvedev def. Carlos Alcaraz 7-6 (3), 6-1, 3-6, 6-3

This year, Alcaraz had Medvedev's number, beating him "easily" as Medvedev put it, in their previous two meetings at Wimbledon and Indian Wells. Medvedev said he needed to play "10 out of 12" to topple the world No. 1 and earn a shot at a second US Open title, and from the opening set, that's exactly what he did. Medvedev's service game was stellar, he returned well and he never lost his cool. Alcaraz, on the other hand, showed he can be susceptible to frustration and indecision and struggled to find an answer for Medvedev's much-improved game against him.

"I thought that, right now, I am a better player to find solutions when the match is not going in the right direction for me," Alcaraz said. "But, you know, after this match, I'm going to change my mind. I'm not mature enough to handle these kind of matches. I have to learn about it."