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Djokovic wins 9th Australian Open, 18th Slam title

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Djokovic wins 9th Australian Open, 18th Slam title

 

Perhaps, perhaps, the thought went, Novak Djokovic will be just a tad more vulnerable to trouble at the Australian Open this time around.

In the third round, after all, he ripped his abdominal muscle and wasn’t sure he could continue to play. Djokovic ceded five sets in the tournament as he entered Sunday, the most he had ever lost en route to a major final. And to top it all off, Daniil Medvedev, owner of a 20-match winning streak, was facing him.

Well, well, yes. At Melbourne Park, where his supremacy is most definitely intact, we are talking about Djokovic—nine finals, nine championships. Plus, in the Grand Slam rankings, he’s also gaining on Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, now up to 18 overall, two short of the men’s record those rivals share.

In addition to his usual relentless return and baseline excellence, Djokovic used enhanced serving to win 11 of 13 games in one period and beat Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 for a third consecutive Australian Open trophy.

“The most challenging Grand Slam I’ve ever had, definitely, emotionally, with everything that was going on, injury, off-the-court stuff, quarantines,” Djokovic said. “A coaster-roller ride.”

After less than two hours, when the match ended, Djokovic marched to the sideline, lifted his white shirt and peeled from his stomach strips of beige athletic tape.

‘I was very concerned,’ said Djokovic of the injury. “Realistically, I didn’t (think) that I could really play. Until two hours before the fourth-round match, I didn’t know.

Djokovic, struggling with what he called “bearable” pain, improved to a combined 18-0 in semifinals and finals on the hard courts of Melbourne.

“It is probably not your last one,” said Medvedev. “I don’t have words to say.”

Serbia’s 33-year-old Djokovic has won six of the last 10 majors and will remain at No. 1 in the rankings at least until 8 March. That’s going to give him 311 weeks, breaking another mark Federer keeps.

His objectives are now squarely on the Grand Slams, even more than before.

Placed the nine triumphs of Djokovic in Australia alongside five at Wimbledon, three at the U.S. Accessible and one at the French Open, respectively. For him, the math looks good: he’s about a year younger than Nadal, and about 6 1/2 younger than Federer.

“Every single time, I enjoy success even more,” Djokovic said, “because I know that the longer time passes, the harder it becomes.”

In his second Slam final, the No. 4-seeded Medvedev appeared; he was the runner-up to Nadal in the 2019 U.S. Uh, free.

Russia’s 25-year-old won 12 in a row against Top 10 rivals, but trying to overcome Djokovic is a unique challenge in Australia.

“He’s very good at reading the game of an opponent,” Medvedev said, “knowing what you’re going to do next, how to beat you.”

Medvedev bounced his white racket off the blue court as stuff fell away, then utterly smashed it with a full-on spike. He kept looking up at his coach with his palms up, as if he were saying, “What can I do here?” ”

In this stadium, it’s a familiar feeling: Federer, Nadal, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Dominic Thiem, all Grand Slam champions, all beaten by Djokovic in Melbourne’s semifinals or finals.

An event postponed three weeks on a cool, gloomy evening because of the coronavirus pandemic closed with a reported attendance at Rod Laver Arena of 7,426. Due to a COVID-19 lockout, spectators were barred for five days earlier in the tournament, but they were finally allowed back in at 50 percent capacity.

“With tennis players coming to Australia, there are a lot of mixed feelings about what has happened in the last month or so,” Djokovic said. “But I think it was a successful tournament for the organisers when we drew a line at the end.”

And on behalf of him.

At first, Medvedev’s flat, wrap-the-racket-around-his-neck forehand was iffy, missing in the initial 10 minutes, big, long and into the net. Djokovic got 13 of the initial 16 points of the match and a quick 3-0 lead. However, soon enough, it was 3-all, then 5-all.

But it was then that Djokovic stepped up, and Medvedev stepped down. Djokovic kept in love, then broke to win the set when Medvedev slapped a forehand into the net just after the point was called out by someone in the crowd.

With a fault in the net, Djokovic started the second set, then shook his left arm and flexed his shoulders. That point ended with a backhand missing out on the net, and he glanced at his guest box. Medvedev was gifted a break by another netted backhand.

But it revealed the extreme difference in experience. Medvedev relinquished his next two service games immediately. In all, Djokovic broke seven times and made just seventeen unforced mistakes against Medvedev’s 30.

“Masterpiece,” said the 2001 Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, who is one of Djokovic’s coaches.

At 4-2 in the third, Medvedev seemed to have a tiny opening, getting to 15-30 with a forehand winner on Djokovic’s serve and waving to the crowd to make noise. Djokovic took the next three points and the win, as if seeing it as a personal affront, then pointed his right index finger to his temple and gritted his teeth.

It was soon done.

“It always brings me that extra dose of confidence when I come to Australia,” Djokovic said, “because of my record here and because of how I play.”

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