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29 Jan, 2022 16:47

Medvedev stands in way of Nadal & history, but shadow of Djokovic row lingers

Medvedev and Nadal are dueling for the Australian Open title but all of this is being conducted under a veil of Djokovic's absence
Medvedev stands in way of Nadal & history, but shadow of Djokovic row lingers

A thrilling spectacle awaits tennis fans on Sunday as Daniil Medvedev faces Rafael Nadal for the 2022 Australian Open title. 

But as it had seemed to some that Novak Djokovic's mere participation would have guaranteed another Grand Slam win for the Serb, will his proverbial fingerprints be all over the trophy for the eventual winner?

Owing to highly-publicized vaccine scandal, Djokovic was deported Down Under despite arriving in the country with a medical exemption that he thought would afford him the opportunity to defend the 2021 crown he won against Medvedev.

And while the Russian exacted revenge by clinching his first major tournament at the US Open in Autumn later that year, it can be argued that Medvedev and Nadal are capitalizing on Djokovic's visa woes, while the name of the winner on the trophy at Melbourne Park should perhaps come with an asterisk above it.

Benefiting most from Djokovic's absence is sixth seed Nadal, who in a sensational and surprise run to the final amid recovering from a foot injury can surpass him and his other generational rival Roger Federer on 21 Grand Slam wins through victory.

More renowned for his exploits on clay at Roland Garros, Nadal has not gone all the way at the Rod Laver Arena since 2009 but claims not to be motivated by wider context of the clash. 

"I just feel happy to be part of this amazing era of tennis, sharing all these things with another two players," insisted the Spaniard, who is playing his sixth final at the competition.

"That's it. In some ways, it doesn't matter if somebody achieves one more or one less. We did amazing things and things that will be very difficult to equal. So I don't think much about this, all this stuff."

On the other side of the ball, however, second seed and world number two Medvedev, who saw off Stefanos Tsitsipas in four sets in a fiery semifinal on Friday, is not kidding himself about the wider ramifications of the result.

"It's a great rivalry. I'm happy to have the chance to try to stop one more time somebody from making history," he said, in a nod to his Flushing Meadows win over Djokovic which also prevented him becoming the first man since Laver in the 60s to complete a Grand Slam of all the major competitions in one year.

"I know what Rafa is going for, I knew what Novak was going for. I'm not going to say, 'Oh, yeah, I am trying not to listen about this'. But it's kind of their thing, not mine. I'm just there to try to win the final.

"I'm going to play again against one of the greatest. What's funny is I'm going to play again against someone going for a 21st title. Grand Slam finals are special. I'm ready."

On the cusp of perhaps becoming the next generation's lead name, the 25-year-old said that it is "really tough to get into the final" where "I always have them there waiting for me," as per the iconic trio.

"But it's fun. When I was eight, 10 years old, I was playing against the wall and I was imagining that it's Rafa on the other side, or Roger. Novak was still not yet there, I think.

Head to head, Nadal currently leads by three wins to one. And though Medvedev got the better of Nadal most recently in the 2020 Nitto ATP Finals semifinals, it is the 2019 US Open final won by Nadal that is perhaps most relevant.

"The first one was a close one, epic one," said Medvedev, as the Spaniard prevailed 7–5, 6–3, 5–7, 4–6, 6–4 in a thriller.

"Of course I remember the match" he added, of his first ever final where the pair "played five hours or something close to it".

"I'm going to try to prepare well, and I need to show my best, because that's what I took out of the three finals that I had before – that you have to do better than 100 per cent in order to win.

"That's what I managed to do in the US Open. That's what I'm going to try to do on Sunday," he vowed.

As Djokovic watches on a television screen, he and the rest of the world will either see the baton further passed on the man that might succeed him as world number one and the sport's biggest star, or his hard work undone in the history books by a foil perhaps better loved by the public and media.