Defiant Novak Djokovic is unbeaten in Australian Open finals… but Daniil Medvedev MUST start as favorite in Sunday’s showdown
“I don't have a lot of pressure because Novak has never lost here in the final,” the Russian casually told the crowd in Melbourne.
“He has all the pressure to get to Roger Federer and Rafa [and their record of 20 Grand Slam titles]... I can win against the best names if I play well. He has more experience but has more things to lose than me."
While the comments were delivered in the affable, almost child-like way in which Medvedev often speaks, his message was clear: the heat will be firmly on eight-time champion Djokovic when play gets underway on Sunday.
In reaching his maiden final in Melbourne, Medvedev was ruthlessly brilliant as he dismantled fifth seed Tsitsipas on Friday with a display of big serving and powerful groundstrokes.
Apart from a slight wobble in the third set, Medvedev was imperious as he racked up a 20th straight win on the tour.
That is quite some momentum to have heading into the weekend, when he will collide with a man who has never lost in eight finals in Melbourne.
Perhaps the greatest warrior ever to raise a racket, the 33-year-old Djokovic has always found a way to win when it comes to the sharp end of the Australian Open.
Last year’s final against Dominic Thiem was a classic example: Djokovic looked drained and lifeless at two sets to one down, but somehow resurrected himself to win in five sets in a match which lasted almost four hours.
Earlier in this season’s tournament in Melbourne, the Serb questioned whether he would even continue after struggling with an abdominal injury in his five-set win over Taylor Fritz in the third round.
Sure enough, he subsequently went on to see off two top-15 seeds in Milos Raonic and Alexander Zverev, before easing past plucky Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev in the semifinal.
After that match Djokovic seemed fully revived, beaming that he felt as good as has done at any point in the past fortnight in Melbourne.Also on rt.com Fairytale run ends for Russian underdog Karatsev as Djokovic books spot in Australian Open final
Djokovic has, of course, been there and done that so many times before. Sunday will be the Serb’s 28th appearance in a Grand Slam final, with 17 Majors already to his name. In contrast, 25-year-old Medvedev will be making only a second appearance in a Grand Slam final.
Medvedev is just another of the so-called ‘Next Gen’ bidding to snatch the crown so often worn by Djokovic, Nadal or Federer in the past two decades.
“There has been a lot of talk about the new generation coming and taking over the three of us,” Djokovic told Eurosport.
“Realistically, that isn’t happening still…Certainly they will be the leaders of the future of tennis, without a doubt, but I’m not going to stand here and hand it over to them. I’m going to make them work their ass off for it.”
Medvedev will be hoping that the future is now as he bids to take the next step on Sunday.
Despite Djokovic’s ominous record in Melbourne finals, the Russian is unlikely to be cowed. He lost his first three matches against the Serb, but has won three of their past four meetings, including on his way to winning the ATP Finals in London at the end of last season.
In his remarkable current streak of 20 straight wins, Medvedev has defeated players in the world’s top 10 on 12 occasions. He is the form man in tennis at the moment, and proved that again with his imperious display against Tsitsipas.
That performance showed just how good Medvedev can be when he’s firing on all cylinders, allying some big serving with remarkable groundstrokes.
Medvedev has been nicknamed ‘the octopus’ – something he recently joked about with his 25th birthday cake – but it really is apt given his remarkable ability to stretch his lengthy limbs to all parts of the court.
The moniker should not be taken as an insult, but rather a compliment. Medvedev finds angles that shouldn’t be there and reaches the places that other players often can’t.
His backhand down the line to break Tsitsipas at 5-5 in the third set on Friday was a sensational example of that, and was the shot of the tournament.
Medvedev has been labeled ‘boring’ and ‘awkward’ by some, but those are unfair descriptors. He has so much ingenuity to his game, so much balance, and so much poise for a man who carries a 6ft 6in frame around the court with him.
He can be unpredictable and exciting, but thankfully those are two adjectives being applied less and less to Medvedev’s psychological state on court. His bouts of petulance (seen most infamously on his run to the US Open final in 2019) have become much fewer and farther between. He is much more composed and mature, and has reaped the benefits.
Medvedev will need all those assets when he takes on Djokovic. The Serb will be well-rested, having played his semifinal a day earlier than his Russian opponent, although in truth Medvedev’s younger legs and the three-set demolition of Tsitsipas will likely mean fatigue should not be a factor.
Sunday is shaping up to be a wonderful contest between the old guard and the new, a young pretender who finally looks ready to step up to the next level against a veteran battling to stay on top.
But while no man has beaten Djokovic when within sight of the famous Norman Brookes Challenge Cup in Melbourne, Medvedev’s current form suggests he should start as the favorite to do just that when he lines up against the Serbian warrior this weekend.