In a dazzling display of dominance last Sunday, Novak Djokovic continued his march towards history, capturing his record-extending ninth Australian Open title by taking out Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-2 and 6-2 in just under two hours in the final. Coming into the match, pundits and fans alike thought Medvedev had a real chance to hand Djokovic his first loss in an Australian Open final. The Russian was arguably the hottest player on tour, having won his previous twenty matches, including his last twelve against top ten opponents. However, Medvedev was no match for Djokovic in the Serb’s self-appointed “second home” at Rod Laver Arena. At the start of the match, the shaky Medvedev surrendered his first service game and seemed a step slow as Djokovic quickly raced out to a 3-0 lead. However, Medvedev regained his composure and proceeded to rattle off three games of his own to level the match at three games all. From there, the two men exchanged the type of long rallies fans had clamored to see from this matchup while trading holds of serve to leave the match 6-5 in Djokovic’s favor. With Medvedev serving to force a first set tiebreak, Djokovic dug in deep and found a way, as the great ones always do, to secure the crucial break of serve to take the first set 7-5.
Despite looking depleted after his first set loss, Medvedev was handed a gift from Djokovic, who proceeded to drop his serve in the first game of the set and looked up at his coaching team in disgust after several uncharacteristic errors. However, Medvedev was unable to take advantage of Djokovic’s generosity, and the Serb proceeded to break Medvedev back en route to winning four straight games. With Djokovic serving up 4-2, Medvedev forced the game to deuce with an opportunity to get back on serve. However, Djokovic escaped thanks to a timely serve and a Medvedev unforced error, leading Medvedev to crack his racquet in frustration. Unable to hold serve in the next game, Medvedev fell behind two sets to love.
At the start of the third set, Medvedev again had another opportunity to take advantage of a poor Djokovic service game up 40-15 with two break points. However, Medvedev failed to capitalize on this opportunity and Djokovic recovered to hold serve and subsequently break Medvedev to take a commanding lead. Medvedev had one last push left in him though. Down 4-2, he hit back-to-back winners to go up 30-15 on Djokovic’s serve. However, Djokovic showed the mental fortitude and heart of a champion that has made him one of the game’s all time greats as he outlasted Medvedev in three critical points to move within one game of the title. From there, Djokovic needed only one championship point, beautifully placing an overhead volley in the corner of the court to seal the match in straight sets.
With his work complete, Djokovic fell to the ground in celebration, more from his journey to the title than the actual final, which was the shortest match of his nine finals victories. Earlier in the tournament, Djokovic suffered an oblique injury in the third round against American Taylor Fritz but somehow willed his way to a five set victory. After the match, Djokovic noted how if he was not playing a grand slam, he would have pulled out of the tournament. Djokovic’s legendary willpower carried him through the tournament, despite dropping more sets and spending more time on court than any of his previous eight title runs.
In a battle between arguably the two best baseliners in the game today, Djokovic was able to establish a better position inside the court. This allowed him to dictate to the defensive Medvedev, forcing him side to side. Additionally, Djokovic deployed a brilliant game plan against Medvedev, coming forward to the net to neutralize the Russian’s defensive prowess and mixing in drop shots throughout the match, forcing Medvedev to move forward, where he is not nearly as comfortable. Another key to Djokovic’s victory was his improved serving. With this year’s Australian Open courts playing much faster than in years past, the advantage servers usually enjoy was amplified even further. The extra speed Djokovic has worked to generate on his serve allowed him to win more free points throughout the tournament and produced the most aces he’s had in any Australian Open. This made it difficult for Medvedev to get in many of Djokovic’s service games.
While Djokovic certainly deserves a tremendous amount of credit for his masterful performance, Medvedev was certainly not at the top of his game. He was not his usual solid self from the baseline after the first set, producing almost twice as many unforced errors in the match as Djokovic. The usually stoic Medvedev also let his emotions get the best of him, and it was clear his mental game was suffering starting midway through the second set. Additionally, the usually genius strategist simply had no counter to Djokovic’s game plan and should have looked to be more aggressive instead of letting Djokovic control the flow of the match. Finally, Medvedev only won 32 percent of his second serve points compared to 58 percent for Djokovic. This allowed Djokovic to get into more of Medvedev’s service games and break him seven times. Despite the bitter loss though, the 25-year-old is one of the emerging stars on tour and will undoubtedly break through in a major sooner rather than later.
With respect to what this title means for Djokovic’s legacy, his 18 grand slams means he has now pulled within two slams of the all time record of 20, currently shared by the other two members of the Big Three, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. And with Federer coming off of knee surgery at age 39 and the 34-year-old Nadal prone to injuries, it would not be surprising to see Djokovic, 33, surpass his two rivals in total grand slams and continue his dominance, cementing himself as the greatest player of all time.