MELBOURNE, Australia – Maybe, just maybe, the thinking started, Novak Djokovic he would be just a little more sensitive to the problems this time at the Australian Open.
Finally, he ripped out the middle section while sliding in the third round and said he tore a muscle. Entering Sunday, Djokovic has already conceded five sets in the tournament, the most he has ever dropped on the way to the grand final. And he was faced Daniil Medvedev, owner of a string of 20 wins.
Yes, that’s right. We are talking about Djokovic in Melbourne Park, where his dominance is certainly intact – nine finals, nine championships. Plus, it still gets on Roger Federer i Rafael Nadal on the Grand Slam table, now a total of up to 18, two shy of the male record shared by those rivals.
Djokovic used top service, his usual relentless comeback and basic excellence to snatch 11 of 13 games in one go and beat Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 for the third consecutive Australian Open trophy.
When the match ended after less than two hours, Djokovic fell on his back on the field. Greeting Medvedev, Djokovic went to the side line, picked up his white shirt and peeled off pieces of beige athletic tape along his belly.
“It’s a slide ride for me, especially in the last few weeks,” Djokovic said, holding his silver trophy in his left hand.
He thanked his personal trainer, Ulysses Badio, for helping him get through it and improving to a combined 18-0 draw in the semifinals and finals on hard courts in Melbourne.
“It’s probably not your last,” Medvedev said. “I have no words to say.”
Djokovic, a 33-year-old from Serbia, won six of the last 10 main events and will remain on the 1st place on the ranking list at least until March 8. That will allow him 311 weeks in the first place, breaking another mark that was maintained by Federer.
Fourth seed Medvedev appeared in his second Grand Slam final; was Nadal’s runner-up at the 2019 US Open.
“He is definitely one of the most difficult players I have faced in my life,” said Djokovic. “It’s only a matter of time before you hold the Grand Slam, that’s for sure.”
And then he joked with Medvedev, a 25-year-old from Russia, who has never lost since October: “If you don’t mind waiting a few more years …”
Medvedev has beaten the members of the Top 10 in the past 12 outings, but against Djokovic in Australia is a much different challenge.
As things got trickier, Medvedev bounced his white racket off the blue field and then absolutely destroyed it with a full spike. He kept looking up at his coach with his palms up as if to ask, “What can I do here?”
So put Djokovic’s nine triumphs in Australia alongside five at Wimbledon, three at the US Open and one at the French Open.
The math looks good to him. He is about a year younger than Nadal and 6 1/2 younger than Federer, who turns 40 in August and has not competed for more than a year after two knee surgeries.
On cool, cloudy evenings, the event was postponed for three weeks due to a coronavirus pandemic closed with an announced presence of 7,426. Spectators were banned five days earlier at the tournament for locking COVID-19, but were eventually returned to a capacity of 50%.
“There are a lot of mixed feelings about what happened in the last month or so with the tennis players who came to Australia,” said Djokovic. “But I think we drew the line in the end, it was a successful tournament for the organizers.”
And for him.
Medvedev’s flat, wrapped racket around his neck was insecure at first, missing wide, long and into the net in the first 10 minutes. Djokovic grabbed 13 of the initial 16 points in the match and a quick lead of 3: 0. Soon it was 3, and then 5.
But then Djokovic stepped forward, and Medvedev withdrew. Djokovic fell in love, and then stopped asking for a set when Medvedev hit the net with a forehand just after someone from the crowd called out during the points.
Djokovic started the second set with a mistake in the net, and then he waved his left hand and bent his shoulders. That point ended with him missing a backhand in the net, and he glared at his guest box. Another online backhand brought Medvedev a break.
But there was an extreme gap in experience. Medvedev immediately gave up his next two service games. All in all, Djokovic broke seven times, won 73% of the points when his first serves came in and made only 17 unforced errors up to Medvedev’s 30.
Medvedev seemed to have a small opening at 4-2 in the third, reaching 15-30 on Djokovic’s serve with a forehand winner and waving the audience to make a noise. As if perceiving it as a personal insult, Djokovic took the next three points and the game, and then he pointed his right index finger at his temple and gritted his teeth.
Soon, everything was over in the place that Djokovic owns
“I would like to thank this court. I would like to thank Rod Laver Arena,” he said to conclude the trophy ceremony. “I love you every year, more and more.”