The King of Melbourne Park: Imperious Djokovic reigns down under once again
Novak Djokovic’s dominance of the Australian Open continued on Sunday as he produced a grand slam final masterclass to down in-form Russian Daniil Medvedev 7-5 6-2 6-2. Alex Grant reports.
Victory in this year’s tournament secured the Serbian a record-extending ninth Australian Open title, the second most wins at as single major by any male player, bested only by Rafael Nadal’s scarcely-believable 13 crowns at Roland Garros. Djokovic also edged closer to Nadal and Roger Federer in terms of grand slam titles, with the Serbian earning his 18th on Sunday, just two behind his rivals’ 20.
Competing in his 28th slam final, Djokovic settled quickly and came flying out of the blocks, sweeping to a 3-0 lead with just eight minutes on the clock. However, Medvedev, competing in his second slam final, came into the match riding the wave of a 20 match win streak and soon responded, breaking back courtesy of a lung-busting 28-shot rally as the Russian levelled the score at 3-3.
The opening set continued on serve, with Medvedev seeing a golden chance to turn up the heat escape him in the ninth game of the set. With the games tied at 4-4 and the game score at 0-15, the Russian made an uncharacteristic error, allowing Djokovic to take full advantage and escape his service game unscathed. A few games later, the Serbian made good on a similar opportunity, breaking Medvedev for the second time to wrap up the opening set at 7-5.
Medvedev responded to the disappointment of losing the opener with an immediate break of the Serbian’s serve but Djokovic responded by winning six of the next seven games to secure the set 6-2 and put himself well on the way to a ninth title from nine finals down under.
The occasion, the drop in his own level of performance and the unrelenting nature of his opponent soon all seemed to become a little too much for the 25-year-old, as Medvedev began to wilt and his frustrations soon boiled over as he took them out on his racket.
The Russian had never come back from being down two sets to love in his career and never looked remotely like making this his first successful comeback, with Djokovic racing through the final set. As the 33-year-old hooked an overhead into the corner of the court, he collapsed to the ground knowing that victory in the Rod Laver Arena had been secured once again.
Djokovic’s victory means tennis’ ‘Big Three’ have now combined to win 15 of the last 16 majors, despite all being well into their 30s – the only exception was Dominic Thiem’s victory at last year’s US Open, an event in which Federer (injury) and Nadal (COVID-19 concerns) didn’t participate.
Speaking to the assembled media after his victory, Djokovic was quick to point to his rivalry with Federer and Nadal, who he described as ‘knights of the sport’, as key to his continued motivation:
“Roger and Rafa inspire me. I think as long as they go, I’ll go. I think in a way it’s like a race who plays tennis more and who wins more. It’s a competition between us in all areas.
“But I think that’s the very reason why we are who we are because we do drive each other, we motivate each other, we push each other to the limit.”
Djokovic also stands on the verge of another piece of history, as on March 8th, he will reach 311 career weeks at world number one, surpassing Federer’s record total of 310. Speaking of that achievement, the Serb hinted that he would now be adjusting his schedule to focus almost completely on slams:
“Now, after achieving the new record for the longest weeks at number one, it’s going to be a relief for me because I’m going to focus all my attention on slams, mostly.
“My goals will adapt and will shift a little bit, which means that I will have to adjust also my calendar – not have to, but I will have an opportunity to do that which, as a father and a husband, I’m really looking forward to that.”
For Medvedev, he becomes the latest in an ever-growing list of players to fail to mark the beginning of a new era in tennis, having missed the chance to not only win his first major crown but also by failing to become the first man outside of Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Andy Murray to break into the top two in the tennis rankings since Lleyton Hewitt on July 24 2005.
Medvedev has, however, reached a career-high ranking of third in the world by reaching the final down under and was quick to praise his opponent on-court after the match, before looking at the positives:
“First of all, congrats to Novak and your team. Nine grand slams in Australia is amazing and, probably, it’s not your last one. I have no words to say.
“It was not the best day today, but a good three last months after some tough circumstances, so thank you guys for being with me. Hopefully, we’re going to hold a grand slam soon.”
Medvedev went on to heap equal praise not only on his opponent, but also Federer and Nadal – the Spaniard handed the Russian his first grand slam final defeat at the 2019 US Open, with Medvedev describing the three men as ‘cyborgs’ of tennis:
“When they’re in the zone, and I’m not shy to say it, I feel like they’re just better tennis players, than the rest of us.
“I’m 25 now. To win nine Australian Opens, I need to win one title every year until I’m 34. I believe in myself, but I don’t think I’ll be able to do it. Same with Rafa, 13 Roland Garros titles. We’re talking about some cyborgs of tennis in a good way. They’re just unbelievable.”
For Medvedev, he is next scheduled for action at the ATP 500 event in Rotterdam, due to get underway on March 1, where he will face a competitive field including world number two, Nadal.
Djokovic meanwhile, as hinted, is likely to look to rework his current schedule with his next tournament due to be the ATP 500 event in Dubai on March 15.