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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, February 21, 2021

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic dissected Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 earning his record-extending ninth Australian Open title and 18th major championship.

Photo credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty

Streaking forward for a surprise serve-and-volley, Novak Djokovic dabbed an angled volley that dripped like paint onto the blue canvas.

Even when Daniil Medvedev seemed to shrink the gap, Djokovic had an artistic, authoritative answer to deepen the divide.

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A commanding Djokovic dissected Medvedev, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, to capture his record-extending ninth Australian Open championship in phenomenal fashion.

A ruthless Djokovic roared throughout this final collecting his 18th Grand Slam championship closing the distance on 20-time major champions Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer as he continues his determined drive toward tennis immortality.

"When you're a young tennis player, I think 99.9 percent of players, kids that get a racquet in their hands, start dreaming about what they want to achieve, it's a Grand Slam, winning a major," Djokovic said after scoring his 21st straight AO victory. "So, of course I tried to remind myself, pinch myself, of how important this is.

"Even though I have been fortunate to win many majors and play in many major finals in my life, I do enjoy the success every single time even more because I know that the longer the time passes, the more difficult it's going to become for me to get my hands on the major trophy because you have, of course, new young players coming up that are as hungry as you, maybe even hungrier, and they're coming up and they're challenging me and Roger and Rafa."

The Big 3 have won 15 of the last 16 Grand Slam crowns with Djokovic and Nadal claiming 10 of the last 11 major championships. Djokovic continues to rack up titles and milestones becoming the first man in Open Era history to win three AO championships after age 30.

The 33-year-old Serbian unleashed a masterful performance of all-court tennis outclassing the hottest player on Tour reducing the man Hall of Famer John McEnroe praises as “a chess master on court” to a bit of a basket case at times railing at his support box and ravaging his Tecnifibre racquet.

“Never easy to speak when you just lost the final of a Grand Slam, but I’m gonna try to do my best—better than on the court hopefully,” Medvedev told the crowd. “Congrats to Novak and your team. Nine Grand Slams in Australian and 18 total and probably it’s not your last one...

“When I was 500 or 600 in the world in Monaco [Novak] was already No. 1, he just won Wimbledon and I thought okay he’s not going to speak to me or something because the guy was a god to me. I was shy because I didn’t speak he was asking me questions. He was talking to me like a friend and he’s never changed since I was 600 in the world or 4 in the world.

"You are a great guy so congratulations to you."

Less than six months ago, Djokovic suffered one of his most controversial major losses when he was defaulted from the US Open after inadvertently striking a lineswoman in the throat with a loose ball.

Tonight, Djokovic solidified his status as the world's best player and an iconic champion determined to rule the Grand Slam title race.

Straddling the baseline and slashing any mid-court balls he saw, Djokovic sustained his perfect record in AO Finals while snapping Medvedev’s 20-match winning streak in the process. The depth of Djokovic's game and superior shot variety he owns were key components to his success. 

Mixing his attack masterfully, Djokovic sometimes played deep drives down the middle denying Medvedev access to angles, tossed in timely drop shots to exploit the Russian's inferiority in the front court and attacked with vigor at the right times. Djokovic won 16 of 18 net points, including his leaping sky hook volley on championship point, and outlcassed the world No. 4 in all phases of the game. 

“I would like to return nice words to Daniil,” Djokovic said. “I really like Daniil as a person off the court. On the court he’s definitely one of the toughest players I ever faced in my life. It’s a matter of time when you gonna hold a Grand Slam—that’s for sure—if you don’t mind waiting a few years.”

Deadlocked at 5-all, Djokovic elevated his game to levels Medvedev simply could not match rolling through 14 of the last 18 games. 

A dominant Djokovic broke in seven of Medvedev's 14 service games in transforming a highly-anticipated blockbuster into an anti-climactic blow out.

"I was there in the first set, I was up a break in the second, but in the end I lost in three sets where I didn't play bad but I didn't play high best level," said Medvedev, who fell to 0-2 in Grand Slam finals. "Probably he made his game that good today that I couldn't stay at my best level.

"Yeah, I obviously thought about Rublev and Tsitsipas both amazing Top-10 players, and I won with similar score where they were playing good, but I felt like I was better. So today was the case for Novak. I cannot say much better than this. He was better than me today. I could have done things for sure better today, but I didn't manage to. That's why I don't have the trophy."

It wasn’t the cleanest major title of Djokovic’s career—he sustained an abdominal injury revealed to be a torn oblique in the third round against Taylor Fritz, surrendered the most sets (5) en route to the final and spent four hours, 25 minutes longer on court than his opponent—yet this arduous Aussie adventure makes this Melbourne title one of the most satisfying of his career.

"Taking back the time to six months ago when we restarted the season, I won Cincinnati tournament in New York, then had that disqualification at the US Open that obviously did affect me mentally, emotionally, to go out from the tournament like that when I was actually on a run," Djokovic said. "Didn't lose a match to that point in the whole year, just feeling great.

"Of course, it did affect me through the rest of the season. I was kind of up and down with my performances. Managed to clinch the No. 1 at the end of the season, which was the goal. Just playing without crowd on the stands, it felt a little bit strange and maybe just a little bit lack of motivation. So, yeah, of course I wanted to start this year in the best possible fashion. Coming to Australia, it always brings that extra dose of confidence to me because of my record here and because of how I play in Australia."

Tested to break point in his opening service game, Medvedev opted against attacking a mid-court ball. He paid the price for reticence as Djokovic stretched him on his backhand side drawing the error to earn the opening break for 2-0.

About the only sub-stellar aspect of the Serbian’s game is his sometime shaky overhead. That flaw was revealed as Djokovic netted a bounce smash and Medvedev broke back in the fifth game.

The length of exchanges escalated as the opener unfolded. Prescience is one reason why Djokovic had won 63 of his prior 66 matches on Rod Laver Arena and the Serbian pounced in the 12th game.

Rapping a forehand winner down the line to start the game, Djokovic bolted a backhand pass for triple set point. Medvedev saved the first two set points. But Djokovic’s persistence paid off as he drew a netted forehand taking a one-set lead in 42 minutes. Though Medvedev served 74 percent, he won only three second-serve points in the opener.

Edginess enveloped both sides of the net as the pair traded breaks to start the second set.

A chatty fan talking loudly through a point disrupted play forcing a replay of the point. Medvedev, who opened the set with a break, couldn’t mute his ominous opponent. The Russian dissolved in his sloppiest game steering a backhand wide as Djokovic scored his fourth break in the fourth game.

A streaking Djokovic drilled his third ace down the T sealing his fourth straight game for 4-1. Festering frustration was evident as the ATP Finals champion spiked his Tecnifibre racquet off the blue court in fury leaving a mangled mess as the Serbian stretched his lead to 5-2.

That destruction was a prelude to Djokovic’s fifth break, which not only sealed the second set it enabled the Serbian to start the third set serving.

The serve and return are the two most important shots in the sport and Djokovic excelled in both areas. Djokovic, who hit a tournament-high 103 aces, snapped serves near the line and ravaged the Russian's second serve. Medvedev managed just nine points on his second serve.

"He was serving really good all the crucial moments. Almost he was serving on the line," Medvedev said. "I think when I had a second serve to play, I was not that bad. From what I remember, I think I won some points, some even important ones. Two times I broke him.

"But his serving was exceptional."

Djokovic, who owned a 7-0 record in Slam finals when winning the opening two sets, continued suffocating the Russian, who was reduced to barking at his box between points.

The disparity in court positioning and net play were key components to Djokovic’s dominance. Djokovic consistently took the ball earlier was much cleaner closing at net.

Knowing Medvedev can be mediocre in the front court, the top seed forced the Russian to play a volley drawing an error to break for a 2-0 third-set lead.

Embed from Getty Images

A soaring Djokovic snapped a sky hook volley on championship point then collapsed to his back breezing through his second Melbourne three-peat in one hour, 53 minutes. It was the only time all night Djokovic was down.

Fans bouncing up and down in Rod Laver Arena waved the Serbian flag and serenaded the nine-time champion with a joyous chorus of "Nole! Nole!"

In Melbourne, site of his first major triumph 13 years ago, the Djokovic dominant dynasty Down Under continues with no end in sight.

Despite all of his sustained success, Djokovic still plays with the lean, hungry edge of a man with a much bigger mission in mind. 

The Serbian superstar will claim ownership of the record for most weeks as world No. 1 when he spends his 311th week as No. 1 on Monday March 8th—surpassing Federer’s record of 310 weeks. Djokovic joined 13-time Roland Garros champion Nadal as the second player to win the same major title nine or more times.

"In terms of calculating the amount of slams that Rafa predicting might win French or somewhere else, myself, getting closer to maybe Roger's, Rafa's record, Serena, Margaret," Djokovic said. "Look, everyone has their own journey and their own way of making history. They've made history already. They made a tremendous mark in our sport. I'm trying to build that and develop that myself in a very unique, authentic way that is suitable to me.

"Whether I think about winning more slams and breaking records, of course. Of course, I do. And most of my attention and my energy from this day forward, until I retire from tennis, is going to be directed in majors, trying to win more major trophies."

In a powerful performance, Djokovic raised his Melbourne record to 82-8, reinforced his reputation as the greatest AO men's champion and now continues his quest to secure GOAT status.

If he he delivers the all-court attack he showed tonight, don't discount Djokovic on lifting the ultimate title when all is said and done.


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