By: Nihar Iyengar — Correspondent
Novak Djokovic increased his Grand Slam tally to 18 on Sunday, winning the Australian Open for a record ninth time and narrowing the Grand Slam gap to just 2 behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Although he suffered an abdominal muscle injury in his third-round match against Taylor Fritz, Djokovic rallied to beat Fritz in five sets. Djokovic also defeated Milos Raonic, Sascha Zverev, and Aslan Karatsev on his way to the final against Daniil Medvedev of Russia.
“I was quite worried,” Djokovic said about the injury. “I did not [think] realistically that I could actually play. I didn’t know until two hours before the fourth-round match.”
Coming into the final, Djokovic had never been beaten in an Australian Open semifinal or final, and Medvedev was on a 20-match win streak, including a win against Djokovic. The Serbian ranked No. 1 in the world defeated the fourth-ranked Russian, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, in routine fashion, taking just under two hours to complete the job.
Cruising to a quick 3-0 lead in the first set, Djokovic’s experience seemed to get the better of Medvedev. Although Medvedev fought back to even the set at 5-5, Djokovic stepped up, holding at love and then breaking Medvedev’s service to win the set 7-5. From then on, Djokovic was in the driver’s seat as Medvedev committed several unforced errors, relinquishing service game after service game.
“Definitely, emotionally, the most challenging Grand Slam that I ever had, with everything that was happening — injury, off-the-court stuff, quarantines,” Djokovic said during the post-match interview. “A roller-coaster ride.”
“Roger and Rafa inspire me,” Djokovic added. “That is something I have said before. I will say it again. I think as long as they go, I’ll go.”
He also garnered high praise from his own team.
“Masterpiece,” said Goran Ivanisevic, one of Djokovic’s coaches and former Wimbledon champion.
Medvedev, during his speech after the match, was quick to share an endearing story of practicing with a patient and passionate Djokovic in Monte Carlo as a young boy. He also spoke about Djokovic’s skill and sustained success.
“Probably, it’s not your last one,” Medvedev said. “I have no words to say.”
“He’s really good [at] reading an opponent’s game,” Medvedev added, “knowing what you will do next, how to beat you.”
Although Djokovic can now add another trophy to his case, that is not the only achievement he will be celebrating. On March 8, he will surpass Roger Federer for the most career weeks at world No. 1 at 311 weeks. In another post-match interview, Djokovic said that his goals and schedule will now shift because he does not need to worry about his ranking as much.
“When you are going for No. 1 ranking, you kind of have to be playing the entire season and you have to be playing well, you have to play all the tournaments,” Djokovic said.
“Now, after achieving the historic No 1 for the longest weeks at No 1, it’s going to be a relief for me because I’m going to focus all my attention on slams mostly,” he added.
image from dw.com