Australian Open 2021: Dominant Djokovic beats Medvedev to claim 18th Major victory

Djokovic near flawless in title match to extend Melbourne record to nine

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic (Photo: Tennis Australia / Handout)

The last match of the last day of the 2021 Australian Open featured one very familiar figure, the eight-time champion Novak Djokovic, taking his place in a ninth title match in Melbourne.

The task of trying to unseat the king of the Rod Laver Arena, the man with 81 match-wins in this blue stronghold, was world No4 Daniil Medvedev, one of a young phalanx of players who were banging on the door of the fortress built by Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

The ‘big three’ had 57 Majors between them, and since Federer had won in Melbourne in 2017, no-one had broken their stranglehold except Dominic Thiem at last year’s US Open—where Nadal and Federer were absent, and Djokovic was defaulted in the fourth round.

Other men had knocked at the door, with new faces winning the last four ATP Finals, and a few Masters titles—even making it to the title match in Majors. The most promising, aside from Thiem, were Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and perhaps the most threatening of the lot, 25-year-old Medvedev.

The tall Russian was certainly shaping up as the man to beat. He came into this final—his second Major title match, incidentally—on a 20-match winning streak, a streak that included no fewer than 12 top-10 players. He was now in the hunt for his fourth consecutive title, and not just any titles. He won the Paris Masters, the ATP Finals, and led Russia to the ATP Cup, but this was undoubtedly the biggest challenge thus far.

No surprise, then, that many anticipated a contest of the highest order, even if Djokovic was still the favourite, especially after his sweeping win over qualifier Aslan Karatsev.

After that semi-final three days ago, he pronounced ominously:

“I felt the best I felt so far in the tournament tonight. Physically, mentally, as well… I’m just very pleased with the performance. It came at the right time. Before last match in a Grand Slam, couldn’t be better timing for me to play my best tennis.”

Djokovic opened proceedings with an ace—perhaps his most improved shot since he won his first Australian title in 2008—and he quickly held.

Although Medvedev played a tidy opening service game, the precision side-to-side metronomic rhythm of Djokovic’s tennis was already on show, and forced errors for the break. And as if to make his point, Djokovic then served to love, closing it with a smash winner: 3-0.

Medvedev got on the board, and then showed just what a threat he was going to be, working break-back points via a long, chess-like rally that Djokovic attempted to close with a drop shot, but it netted. The Russian then defused the Serbian rhythm with two probing lobs to convert. And a love hold levelled things up, 3-3.

From there, it was clean holds all the way to 6-5, neither man barely dropping a point on serve. However, if there was one thing developing on the Djokovic side, it was more ventures to the net as Medvedev served to stay in the set—7/7 and counting.

And in the blink of an eye, Djokovic turned on the afterburners to break open the Russian’s game and work three set points. Medvedev saved two but netted on the third. The Serb was on his way, 7-5.

Medvedev made a swift reply in the second, an opening break, but was on the run again in the second game, pushed from pillar to post. He was breathing heavily, rushed his serve, and was forced into errors for a break back.

The crowd was increasingly rowdy, even forcing a replayed rally as Medvedev served at 1-2, and his concentration seemed to flounder: two errors, another break. Djokovic kept his foot down, acing to hold for 4-1.

Medvedev refocused for a love hold, but the horse had bolted, Djokovic held for 5-2, and the Russian smashed his racket in frustration. It did little to help: Djokovic broke again, 6-2, and a hapless Medvedev now faced a cliff-face.

Djokovic opened poorly in the third, but Medvedev could not capitalise on two break chances. A 19th unforced Russian error and Djokovic was on his way in the third, 1-0. Then Medvedev made a wild double fault, followed by a casual volley error, to hand the Serb the break, leaving Djokovic to make a solid hold for a 3-0 lead.

This had turned into a procession, with Djokovic out-rallying Medvedev at his own game, and the Russian rushed into over-strikes time and again, up to 27 errors compared with Djokovic’s 14.

Medvedev served at 1-4, but began to look like a spectator as Djokovic chased down everything he could produce. The Russian did not have the tools, it seemed, to mix things up, throw something different at the champion.

A long baseline backhand exchange closed out another Djokovic hold, 5-2, and summed up the set, and much of the match. The Russian would not beat the Serb at his own game: Djokovic had made just three errors in the set, and determined to go out with a flourish. He converted one final break point with an overhead, his 16th winner at the net, to seal his 18th Major title, 6-2, in well under two hours.

There is no getting away from it: this had not been the close final that many expected and hoped for, but it reinforced, once again, just how flawless and focused Djokovic can be on tennis’s big stages. It also hinted at some changes that Medvedev will have to make if he is to win that elusive Major title. He has the game to penetrate almost every player, but against Djokovic in particular, he will have to find a different strategy.

He admitted afterwards:

“[Next time], I’ll try to do something better. Doesn’t mean I will succeed, but that’s life as a tennis player…

“He definitely was good. I definitely could have done better. But even if I would have done better, doesn’t mean that the score would be different. Today we have this score. I’m the loser; he’s the winner…

“Talking about the top three, I always say they’re just better than other tennis players. I’m not shy to say this. It’s just truth. In fact, in numbers and everything.”

For now, then, Medvedev ends his run at 20 match-wins, and his run against top-tenners, stopped by the best of them, and Djokovic will now go on to take Federer’s record of 310 weeks at No1.

Both were positive and courteous to the other in the presentation ceremony—in sharp contrast with the booing from the crowd that inexplicably accompanied references to Victoria’s imminent Covid vaccine campaign.

Djokovic said of the younger man:

“I really like Daniil as a player off the court but on the court he’s one of the toughest players I ever faced in my life. It’s a matter of time when you’re going to hold a Grand Slam. If you don’t mind waiting a few more years…”

The wry smile said it all: Djokovic also wants the Federer/Nadal record in Major titles too: He needs only three more.

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