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When the dust settles, it’s Djokovic, naturally

He became just another man who couldn’t beat Djokovic in an Australian Open final, the fifth. “Nine Australian Opens, 18 altogether, and probably not your last one,” he said to Djokovic at the presentation. “It’s only a matter of time and you’re going to win one,” replied Djokovic, “if you don’t mind waiting a few more years.”

This might have been Medvedev’s time, but this is Djokovic’s court. The last of his several thank-yous was to the surface itself. “The love affair keeps going,” he said.

Novak Djokovic is right at home on Rod Laver Arena.

Novak Djokovic is right at home on Rod Laver Arena.Credit:Getty Images

It might have been Medvedev with the momentum, but it was Djokovic with the weight of history behind him. In two weeks, he will reach another threshold, surpassing Federer’s record 310 weeks at No. 1 in the world. It’s a lot to face across the net in a major final. The bald truth is that Medvedev did not just bow before it, he buckled.

It was half a crowd instead of whole, and perhaps for the first time they were on Djokovic’s side, and so it was Djokovic again. The previous crowd set against Djokovic had always been a backhanded compliment anyway, more than overmatched by Djokovic’s own backhand. They sometimes miscue; he does not.

At match’s end, the crowd found a new villain. When Tennis Australia president Jayne Hdrlicka looked hopefully to a better year and the part vaccines might play in its unfolding, sections of Rod Laver arena booed. How’s that for a jab?

To be truthful, just as this was not a regular tournament, it was always not the same Djokovic this fortnight. It was preceded by some friction between him and the Victorian public about what he felt was a misinterpration of his motives when asking for a relaxation of some quarantine conditions. It was still rankling with him even in his moment of triumph.

Djokovic had too many guns for Daniil Medvedev in the final.

Djokovic had too many guns for Daniil Medvedev in the final.Credit:Eddie Jim

He made unusually halting progress through the tournament, playing through a vaguely enunciated injury, losing five sets, fighting fluctuating states of body and mind. This was in contrast to usual smooth escalation.

But in the end, it was the same Djokovic, only more so, the all-court master, the destroyer of lesser tennis mortals, the perennial champion of Melbourne Park.

The match? It started on a high plane, but deteriorated, at least at one end. Each of the first two sets began with an exchange of early breaks of serve, whereupon they knuckled down to play their game of tennis chess. Predictably, Djokovic manoeuvred to draw Medvedev out of his baseline eyrie. It worked. Djokovic won four net points for every one of Medvedev’s winners out in that no man’s land.

Daniil Medvedev could not find the answers he needed against Novak Djokovic.

Daniil Medvedev could not find the answers he needed against Novak Djokovic.Credit:Getty Images

Otherwise, Medvedev did little wrong initially. Rather, Djokovic twice demonstrated his faculty to lift from an already high plane at set’s end. Medvedev’s serve has been a strength, said by semi-final opponent Stefanos Tsitsipas to be the equal of John Isner’s, but Djokovic broke it down, winning five of six games against it to secure a two-set lead and catapult into the lead in the third.

Meantime, he retrieved better than a Labrador. “When Novak says he’s not gonna hand anything to somebody, I believe him,” Medvedev had said in anticipation. Djokovic did not let him down.


The toll showed. Medvedev dashed a racquet to pieces, betraying a mind in much the same state. This is what Djokovic’s mastery does. Between sets, Medvedev gestured helplessly with flapping hands and rolling eyes to his box. Rather than take the time to compose himself, he sped up, losing himself further in Djokovic’s web.

Djokovic, by contrast, now had the blank-eyed look of an assassin. He could play one in a movie. In real life, he is less frightening. Medvedev took a minute on the dais to tell of how when he was just beginning and ranked lower than 500, he had the chance in Monaco to practise with Djokovic, who had just won Wimbledon. He was humbled by Djokovic’s friendliness then and since. He was humbled by Djokovic again this night.


Medvedev, Tsitsipas. Alex Zverev and Dominic Thiem are at the forefront of a second generation of perfectly satisfactory prospective champions who are being baulked by Djokovic and Nadal, not to forget Federer, who hasn’t taken his bow yet. Thiem at least has one major, gained when Djokovic was defaulted out of last year’s US Open. Medvedev after two finals waits still.

The Australian Open. Djokovic. The trophy. Look in next year’s calendar: it’s already marked.

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