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Men's final preview: Djokovic v Medvedev

  • Alex Sharp

There is some spectacular symmetry lining up at Melbourne Park.

On Saturday, Naomi Osaka won her 21st match in a row to win the AO 2021 women’s singles title.

And on the men’s side, in a match to be played at Rod Laver Arena on 21 February, Novak Djokovic is seeking his 21st successive victory at the Australian Open to land an unprecedented ninth title.

But it doesn’t end there; Daniil Medvedev is also looking to equal Naomi Osaka’s 21-match win streak by defeating Djokovic, which would see him lift his maiden major trophy.

History on the line

Djokovic, who has won all eight Australian Open finals he has previously contested, is transparent in his strong desire to overtake 20-time Grand Slam champions Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the top of the men’s all-time leaderboard.

The 33-year-old grimaced and yelped his way through a third-round rollercoaster with Taylor Fritz, admitting his suspected abdominal tear would have forced him to withdraw from any other event than a Grand Slam.

Playing through such an excruciating pain barrier proves how strong the Serbian’s determination is to be considered the ‘greatest of all time.’

Fortunately, he suffered no pain during a straight-sets passage past qualifier Aslan Karatsev in the semifinals, improving his chances of being fresh and firing for a physically brutal battle set to unfold against Medvedev.

Medvedev the master of deflection

The Russian is chasing his own piece of history on Sunday.

Not only is Medvedev bidding to win his first Grand Slam title, a victory that would launch the 25-year-old to world No.2 next week.

He would also become the first player outside the ‘Big Four’ to feature in the Top 2 since 24 July 2005.

“I think he's the favourite because he didn't lose. In eight occasions that he was here in the semis he won the tournament. I'm the challenger and I'm happy about it,” insisted fourth seed Medvedev, who trails 3-4 in the head-to-head record.

“I like to play against Novak. Since the first one when I was ranked 60, we had always tough matches physically, mentally. And he's one of the greatest tennis players in the history of tennis. So playing final against him is superb. Let's see what happens on Sunday."

Despite his recent heroics Medvedev is fully aware of the peak level he must bring to the court.

"I know that to beat him you need to just show your best tennis, be at your best physically maybe four or five hours, and be at your best mentally maybe for five hours,” he mused. 

"When he's in the zone he doesn't miss. He goes down the line, cross, forehand, backhand, he doesn't miss. That's what is the most, the toughest part of playing against him."

The Russian’s astounding unbeaten run goes all the way back to October. The 25-year-old lifted the Paris Masters and ATP Finals trophies in late 2020 before spearheading his nation’s ATP Cup title triumph earlier this month.

If anyone doubted Medvedev’s title credentials, that hot streak includes 12 Top 10 wins. 

And he also has Grand Slam final experience. At the 2019 US Open final Medvedev hauled Nadal into a decider at Flushing Meadows, only to fallow narrowly short.

"I took a lot of experience. It was my first Grand Slam final against one of the greatest and on Sunday I will face one of the other greatest,” Medvedev said.

"The experience from the last Grand Slam final is going to be a big key, to not get tight and to just play again."

Djokovic ready for battle

Considering his wealth of success at Rod Laver Arena and his 17 major titles, Djokovic is the favourite entering his 28th Grand Slam final.

However, Medvedev has won three of their past 4 encounters, most recently a comprehensive 6-3 6-3 triumph at the ATP Finals.

"I'm ready for the battle for the toughest match of the tournament, without a doubt," said the world No.1. "Medvedev is playing at an extremely high quality. He's the man to beat.

"I heard Jim Courier calling him a master chess player because of the way he tactically positions himself on the court, and it's true. You know, he's definitely a very smart tennis player."

Indeed, Medvedev's free-swinging, unorthodox, well-disguised shots could cause Djokovic problems. And the Russian will hope to involve the crowd, who in backing the underdog could disrupt the top seed’s focus. 

The return game will be a key battle ground. Djokovic has escaped several tricky situations with stellar serving, catapulting 100 aces past his opponent thus far at AO 2021 (Medvedev has managed 74).

If Medvedev allows Djokovic to get into a groove and dictate, it will be nine and fine for the world No.1.

Both are chasing 21. But who will mark the symmetry with silverware?