Novak Djokovic won his first Australian Open title in 2008. After Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer won the next two years, it has been all Djokovic since then. Djokovic upped his game (both overall and in Melbourne) in 2011, and since then he has now won eight of the last 11 trophies here. It’s a run that would be viewed as completely unbelievable in any other era of tennis–and yet, in an era where Rafael Nadal has won 13 French Opens since 2005, it’s a statistic that goes almost unnoticed.
Path to the final
Shockingly enough, Djokovic met more resistance in the early rounds than in the final match. The World #1 survived a spirited challenge by Frances Tiafoe in the second round, as the American won a second-set tiebreak 7-3. The real scare for Djokovic came in the third round, though. He lost the third and fourth sets to Taylor Fritz, and was clearly visibly hampered. Djokovic told fans and media after the match that he felt like he tore an abdominal muscle, and there was rampant speculation that the Serbian would withdraw before his fourth-round match against Milos Raonic.
It was obviously not a muscle tear–those don’t heal in two days–and Djokovic faced stiff competition in his next two matches. The World #1 dropped the second set to Raonic, and lost a first-set tiebreak in the quarterfinals against Alexander Zverev. Djokovic outclassed sensational qualifier Aslan Karatsev in the semifinals without too much trouble, setting up the dream final against Daniil Medvedev. The question, though, was whether Medvedev could give Novak Djokovic a battle worthy of a Major final. There were signs the Russian could–after all, he has matched up well against Djokovic in the past, winning three of their last four meetings. Could he do it in a Major final in Melbourne, though?
Novak Djokovic vs Daniil Medvedev
The answer, pretty quickly, was no. Medvedev held his own early in the match, actually. The pair traded breaks in the first set, but Djokovic upped his game at 5-5. While the Serbian held steady and peppered the baseline, Medvedev’s play dropped just a little bit. That was more than enough to cost the Russian the set, as he was broken while serving at 5-6.
Medvedev broke Djokovic top open the second set, raising hopes that the Russian might make a match of things. That didn’t last, though. Two straight poor service games from Medvedev gave Djokovic a 4-1 lead. The Serbian was also more than up to fighting through some patches of brilliance from Medvedev, and he broke again to close the set out at 6-2.
Medvedev again looked like he would challenge in the opening game of the third set, but Djokovic held and followed it up by breaking the next game. Plenty of Medvedev’s service games this match looked poor, but it wouldn’t be fair to say that the Russian played poorly. He was frustrated at times with his baseline game, but so much of that stems from Djokovic’s consistent depth and blistering returns. Medvedev is so often comfortable playing far behind the baseline. Djokovic’s consistent depth forced him further back than he wanted, and it let the Serb control the rallies.
Medvedev tried to get back in the match, but he had no answers for Djokovic Sunday night in Melbourne. The World #1 served well and backed it up. Without giving up another break after the opening game of the second set, Djokovic took the trophy 7-5 6-2 6-2.
Medvedev hasn’t gotten over the hump at a Major yet, but it just feels like that day is coming soon. He’s so good on hard courts. The Russian won the Paris Masters and ATP Finals last year, and continued his great run to this tournament. It’s hard to see him winning consistently as long as Djokovic remains a cut above, but if the World #1 falls off a bit, Medvedev is clearly next in line–at least on hard courts.
Is Djokovic anywhere near falling off? That’s anyone’s guess, though recent results don’t indicate it at all. Djokovic has now won 18 Grand Slam titles, only trailing Federer and Nadal by two Majors. Will he catch their amazing number? Will Nadal increase that margin to three at the upcoming French Open? There are a lot of questions to answer. As Djokovic starts (and continues) to chase down the records of those other two all-time greats, though, he seems to have an answer for everything anyone can throw at him.
It’s another Australian Open, and Novak Djokovic is again on top of the world. At least in the tennis world, 2021 looks like it’s beginning with a return to normalcy.
Main Photo from Getty.