Idemo! Djokovic Wins Ninth Australian Open Title

Novak Djokovic (photo: Fiona Hamilton/Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, February 21, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Novak Djokovic entered the 2021 Australian Open final having won the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup eight times. They accounted for nearly half of his 17 Grand Slam singles titles. For the past decade, he’s been the King of Melbourne Park. His opponent, Daniil Medvedev, had never won the Happy Slam or any Grand Slam for that matter. After Sunday’s highly-anticipated match-up of the world’s No. 1 and No. 4 players, he still hasn’t. And Djokovic continues to be royalty on Rod Laver Arena.

The first Grand Slam men’s final of 2021, contested on a mostly cloudy evening in Melbourne before 7,426 fans, belonged to Djokovic. The 33-year-old Serbian was sharp and dialed in from the beginning, and it showed in his 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 triumph over Medvedev, who was playing in just his second Grand Slam final. Unbeatable on this Australian summer evening in his 28th major final, Djokovic painted a masterpiece. Meanwhile, Medvedev, 25, will be remembered for showing tremendous frustration as he became unraveled from start to finish during the one hour and 53-minute title match.

This was Djokovic’s night to remember as he won his third straight Australian Open men’s title and fifth in the last seven years. He extended his record in Australian Open finals to 9-0.

For the 54th time in the last 63 majors, a member of the Big Three – Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal – has won a major, and it marked the 16th straight year that Djokovic has won at least one tournament and the 10th year in the last 11 he’s won at least one Grand Slam.

Sunday’s victory provided Djokovic with his record-extending ninth Australian Open crown and his 18th major title, which moved him to within two of Federer and Nadal. It snapped the deflated Medvedev’s 20-match winning streak, who took out his frustration by smashing his racquet late in the second set after falling behind. Djokovic converted seven of 11 break-point opportunities and won on his first match-point opportunity with an overhead volley winner.

Upon winning, Djokovic showed his appreciation by tossing his racquet into the crowd and went over to hug his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, and the rest of his team.

“It was a phenomenal effort he put forward,” commented Hall of Famer John McEnroe during ESPN’s broadcast after Djokovic secured this year’s Australian Open men’s title.

During his trophy speech, Djokovic showed his respect for the younger Medvedev. He said, “You’re a great guy, a great person. I really like Daniil as a person, very friendly and outgoing. On the court, he’s one of the toughest players I’ve faced in my life. It’s a matter of time before he wins a Grand Slam, for sure … if you don’t mind waiting a few more years. …

“It has been a rollercoaster ride for me, especially in the last couple of weeks.”

As Djokovic began his quest for his 18th Grand Slam title, he made quite a start in winning the 42-minute first set. The Serbian jumped out to a 3-0 advantage with a break of Medvedev during the Russian’s opening service game, which he consolidated. After losing some of the early momentum he built, Djokovic broke for a second time in the 12th game to win the set after Medvedev saved the first two break points. His serving was big and accurate and he succeeded with some heavy hitting off the ground. Djokovic was in vintage form, showing an ability to get Medvedev’s first serve back in play.

A telling stat served as a reminder going forth for the remainder of the final: Djokovic was 259-5 in Grand Slams after winning the first set – and 12-3 in major finals. Never mind that Medvedev had defeated everyone in the Top 10 (save for Federer, who has been on hiatus recovering from an injury) in the past three months. Djokovic’s impressive numbers would hold up by the end of the evening and be added upon.

During the 35-minute second set, won by Djokovic 6-2, the unforced errors began to build up for Medvedev as the Serbian looked in control. He continued to up the pressure on his returns against his Russian opponent. Losing three straight games to go down 1-3, Medvedev let the set get away from him very quickly as he squandered nearly every opportunity. Djokovic was solid if not spectacular but Medvedev gave him way too many gifts to make it very close. Djokovic’s blistered a service return at 30-40 right at Medvedev’s feet to end the set.

While Medvedev came back from two sets down in his first Grand Slam title match, the 2019 US Open final he lost to Nadal, it would take a remarkable turnaround for the same thing to happen. It didn’t. Instead, Djokovic continued to be locked in as he jumped ahead 3-0 with a break in the second game, thanks to his outstanding returning coupled with Medvedev’s desire to end his service points as quick as possible. Djokovic continued to be ruthless to the very end and the final eight-shot rally was indicative of his dominating play as he wrapped up the final set 6-2.

Djokovic finished with 20 winners – including three aces – and 17 unforced errors, compared to six aces and 24 winners for Medvedev. Djokovic converted seven of 11 break-point opportunities while Medvedev could only win two of four. Djokovic outpointed his opponent 87-68. His fifth victory in eight meetings against Medvedev was in the history books.

During his post-match press conference, Djokovic disclosed he’s played with a muscle tear on the abdominal oblique, which he suffered during his third-round win over Taylor Fritz. He was asked if this was the most difficult of the nine Australian Open titles he’s won.

“Each one is different. It’s hard to compare,” Djokovic said. “But it has been definitely emotionally the most challenging Grand Slams that I ever had with everything that was happening, injury, off-the-court stuff, quarantines. It has been, least to say, a roller-coaster ride in the last four weeks. …

“It was very challenging for me to keep my mind serene and keep my focus directed into what matters the most. I mean, I have put a lot of energy and time, along with my team, to be here sitting with a trophy. So, I’ll take a lot of positives out of this month here in Australia and see what the rest of the season is going to look like.”

Ivanisevic said it was not easy for Djokovic to play through the injury let alone win another Australian Open title. “But, you know, he showed the world again how great, how big he is as a tennis player. This is his tournament. Like Rafa has his French Open, Novak has his Australian Open. Nine time, unbelievable. 

“It just shows you this victory is even sweeter that I know what he has, I know what kind of emotions and pain he went through in [the] last week, and he wins the tournament. It this way, it’s just amazing.”

Despite losing, Medvedev was upbeat during the trophy presentation. “Congrats to Novak and your team. Nine Grand Slams in Australia and 18 total is amazing and probably not your last one. I have no words to say. … He’s a great sportsman.”

Later, during his post-match press conference, Medvedev said a lot went through his heart and head during the final. “It’s definitely tough. I don’t like to lose matches. Doesn’t matter if it’s a first round or a final of a Grand Slam,” he said. “Of course, it’s just that feeling that you’re closer to hold the trophy than when you lose the first round.

“I feel like it’s the kind of matches that I won throughout this tournament that [Novak] won today. … In the end, I lost in three sets where I didn’t play bad but I didn’t play [my] best level. Probably, he made his game that good today that I couldn’t stay at my best level.

“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.”

Looking back, Djokovic said he tried to remind himself how important winning another Australian Open and Grand Slam was. “I do enjoy the success every single time even more. The more time passes, the more it’s difficult because new players are coming, maybe hungrier. …

“Roger, Rafa and myself have managed to play our best at Slams. That made it more difficult for the next generations. How long it’s going to take for Tsitsipas, Medvedev and Zverev, I don’t know. But they’re awfully close.”