A tournament that had to contend with many uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, climaxed with Novak Djokovic remaining an unbreakable force as he thrashed Daniil Medvedev to claim a record-extending ninth Australian Open title.
The world number one’s 7-5 6-2 6-2 triumph on Sunday under the lights at Rod Laver Arena secured his 18th Grand Slam title, bringing him within tantalising reach of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal’s all-time men’s record of 20.
Djokovic used superb serving and his usual relentless returning and baseline excellence to grab 11 of 13 games in one stretch and beat a visibly frustrated Medvedev for a third trophy in a row at Melbourne Park.
The 33-year-old from Serbia improved to 18-0 combined in semifinals and finals on the hard courts of the Australian Open.
“It has been a rollercoaster week for me,” said Djokovic, who was criticised for complaining about coronavirus quarantine conditions players had to endure upon arriving in Australia for the tournament.
“There are a lot of mixed feeling about what has happened in the last month or so with tennis players coming to Australia but I think when we draw a line at the end it was a successful tournament.
“It wasn’t easy but I think they should be proud of themselves for what they have put together and allowed us to come here.”
Looking at the bigger picture, Djokovic has won six of the last 10 major tournaments and is assured of remaining at number one in the rankings at least through March 8. That will give him 311 weeks in the top spot, breaking a mark held by Federer.
The number four-ranked Medvedev was appearing in his second Grand Slam final – he was the runner-up to Nadal at the 2019 US Open – but is still left trying to collect his first such championship.
Djokovic ended the 25-year-old Russian’s 20-match winning streak. Medvedev also had won his previous 12 matches against Top 10 opponents.
But going up against Djokovic in Australia is a very different challenge.
By the second set, as things slipped away, Medvedev bounced his white racket off the blue court, then absolutely destroyed it with a full-on spike. By the third, he kept looking up at his coach with palms up as if to ask: “What can I possibly do here?”
It is a familiar sentiment in this stadium, on this court, at this tournament. Federer, Nadal, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Dominic Thiem – all Grand Slam champions, all defeated by Djokovic in semifinals or finals in Melbourne.
The nine triumphs in Australia complement five at Wimbledon, three at the US Open and one at the French Open for Djokovic.
The math looks good for Djokovic. He is about a year younger than Nadal and six and a half years younger than Federer, who turns 40 in August. Federer has not competed in more than a year after having two knee operations but is expected to return to the tour next month.
‘No-le, No-le, No-le!’
On a cool, cloudy evening, an event delayed by three weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic concluded with an announced attendance of 7,426 at Rod Laver Arena.
Spectators were barred entirely for five days earlier in the tournament because of a local COVID-19 lockdown, but they were eventually let back in at 50 percent capacity.
A majority favoured Djokovic on Sunday, so plenty of choruses of his nickname rang out – “No-le, No-le, No-le!” – and Serbian flags dotted the stands, flapping in a swirling breeze.
This was his 28th major final, even with Nadal for the second-most by a man in tennis history, trailing Federer’s 31.
Djokovic’s run to the title this year was a little fraught at times.
First of all, he wrenched his midsection during a slip in the third round against American Taylor Fritz; after that win, Djokovic said he had torn a muscle, but by the time he played his semifinal, he declared himself pain-free.
Plus, entering Sunday, Djokovic already had ceded five sets through six matches, the most he had dropped in any Grand Slam tournament en route to a final.
But Djokovic broke in half of Medvedev’s 14 service games, won 73 percent of the points when his own first serves went in and 58 percent on seconds. And Djokovic played so cleanly, with just 17 unforced errors; Medvedev made 13.
“Never easy to speak when you just lost a grand slam final, but I’ll do my best,” said Medvedev after his loss. “Congrats to Novak. Nine Slams in Australia is amazing and this won’t be your last one.”
Djokovic returned the compliment, saying Medvedev was “definitely one of the toughest players I ever faced in my life.
“It’s a matter of time that you will hold a Grand Slam for sure – if you don’t mind waiting a few more years!”