Against a Russian challenger who completed a winning streak of 20 games, 33-year-old Djokovic showed a breathtaking display of pace, power and precision to dispatch Medvedev with ruthless efficiency. Djokovic won 14 of the last 18 games and triumphed less than two hours after the first ball, keeping his record of never losing in an Australian Open final intact.
Djokovic’s relative ease in claiming the title on Sunday underscored his very real prospect of equaling or surpassing Nadal and Federer. That’s not to say that Nadal won’t be preferred to win a 14th French Open in June, or that a ninth Wimbledon title at 39 is out of reach for Federer.
“Roger and Rafa inspire me,” said Djokovic. “I think as long as they go, I’ll go. In a way, it’s a race [of] Who plays more tennis, I think, and who wins more. There is competition between us in all areas. But I think that’s exactly why we are the way we are – because we drive each other, motivate each other, push each other to the limit. “
Djokovic’s dominance on Sunday also underscored the rift between the sport’s big three – Federer, Nadal and Djokovic – and younger rivals they sought to dethrone, especially at grand slam events.
A shrewd tactician and delightful interview, Medvedev, 25, said, “We’re talking about some cyborgs of tennis – in a good way. You are just amazing. “
The men’s championship game was played in front of a noisy crowd of around 7,000 spectators – around 50 percent capacity under Australia’s strict coronavirus protocols – which sounded like a full house.
For the past three months, fourth-placed Medvedev had beaten every man in the top 10 (with the exception of Federer, who is on hiatus). He led Djokovic when he last met in November at the ATP finals in London to increase his career record against the world number 1 to 3-4.
For these reasons – along with Medvedev’s powerful serve, blistering backhand, and a series of punches and tactics – the 6-6 Russian was the opponent Djokovic feared most, calling him “the man to beat” earlier this week “.
Djokovic’s way to the final was rocky. He narrowly prevented a defeat in the third round, was pushed to five sets by the American Taylor Fritz and suffered an abdominal injury, which he revealed as a muscle tear on Sunday.
He also smashed his racket during a physical quarterfinal against Alexander Zverev and drew a warning from the umpire that brought back memories of his outbreak at the US Open last year when he was disqualified for blowing up a ball in anger and accidentally hitting a linesman would have.
But it was all business Sunday.
Medvedev, the 2019 US Open runner-up, who competed in his second grand final, opened with noticeable jitter and sprayed faulty groundstrokes to drop the first three games. But he straightened up after winning a long rally on a head taken by surprise by the Serbs.
Although Medvedev’s blows and tactics are varied and typically clever, Djokovic barely gave him the opportunity to show much of being the attacker and dictating the terms on almost every point.
“I wanted to mix things up, do something different,” said Medvedev. “He took the whole time from me; [he] immediately used the advantage for his side. To me it felt like [after] I held the finalist’s trophy for 30 minutes. “
Djokovic’s tactic was clear from the start: Wear down lanky Medvedev, a dogged retriever, by dragging him all over the place and dropping him into the net to take advantage of his wobbly volley. That worked exceptionally well on the fast hard court surface, which emphasizes Djokovic’s strengths – heavy attack, soul-destroying defense and an extraordinary serve on Sunday.
Medvedev rose to the challenge early on, but the physical and mental strain became apparent as the game passed. He and Djokovic swapped service breaks to start the second set. After Medvedev played a flawed game and fell 5-2, he smashed his racket in frustration.
After Medvedev lost the first two sentences, he seemed to be mentally unraveling, moaning and mumbling during the dots, and Djokovic went wild. Subsequently, Medvedev said he could not describe what played the biggest role in his defeat: his underperformance (30 casual mistakes), Djokovic’s exceptional performance, or the fact that Djokovic’s standard prevented him from doing his best.
“During the game I felt like I was doing my best, but it’s not there,” said Medvedev.
Djokovic praised Medvedev as a great person and a great player who would surely win a Grand Slam. He also thanked his coach for getting him ready to play, which alluded to the belly tear.
The two-week event concluded in triumph for Tennis Australia, which hosted the first Grand Slam of the year amid widespread uncertainty as to whether hundreds of players and their teams could be safely brought into the country without re-triggering a largely contained virus.
Government-prescribed protocols were strict. Three plane loads of players and coaches had to be quarantined in their hotel rooms for two weeks because a fellow traveler tested positive when landing in Australia.
Trophy in hand, Djokovic paid tribute to Tennis Australia’s work in running the tournament in such difficult circumstances, a notable concession given his earlier setback against strict protocols.
He expanded his post-game interview and called it the most emotionally challenging Grand Slam he had contested, citing his injury and two-week quarantine before the tournament. “It’s been at least a roller coaster ride for the past four weeks,” he said. “A lot of suffering, a lot of sacrifice.”
He saved his final thanks for the Rod Laver Arena and the place where he won half of his 18 Grand Slam titles.
“I love you more and more every year,” Djokovic said during his post-game interview as the crowd cheered. “The love affair continues.”