Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon reviews the Serb’s record ninth Australian Open title.
In the end, Novak Djokovic ensured that none of it mattered.
It didn’t matter than Daniil Medvedev was on a 20-match unbeaten streak and that he had beaten every single member of the Top 10 during that time. Just like it didn’t matter that he was playing as well as or better than anyone else on tour. In fact, it didn’t matter that Djokovic himself had laboured much more to reach this ninth Australian Open final than he had for the previous eight.
It didn’t matter, either, that there were spectators present for the matches, until there weren’t, and until there were again for the last few days. Do you want more? It didn’t matter that all 1,000+ of tennis played were streamed online, or that we crowned a new demigod of men’s tennis. It didn’t matter that there were no line judges at the event or that Djokovic’s opponent in the final had the second highest odds of winning.
Djokovic champion again
In the end, none of it mattered because this is Australia and lifting the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after winning the Australian Open has somehow become Djokovic’s birthright.
On the last day of this year’s event, men’s tennis crowned a champion who’s become accustomed at just that. The final scoreline might have said 7-5, 6-2 and 6-2 but most telling about the men’s final was the time played: one hour and 53 minutes. Which is to say that this match lasted merely five more minutes than the 2008 French Open final, the one where Rafael Nadal nearly broke Roger Federer for good to the tune of 6-1, 6-3 and 6-0.
Where did the match go wrong?
If you want the skinny on what happened, look at the first eight minutes of play, when Djokovic took hold of the match and never really relinquished control of it. He led 3-0 at the time and had won 12 of the 15 points played. Really, this men’s final was finished before it ever really took off.
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) February 21, 2021
Ever the truth-teller, Medvedev understood the significance of what had just happened when he spoke to the crowd after his defeat. “I really wanted to make this match longer and more entertaining for you,” he said, “but today was not the day.”
Indeed, it wasn’t.
This final had been billed as a potential classic-in-making, and it wasn’t without reason. We had one of the sport’s greatest players, perhaps the single greatest, going up against the one member of the younger generation best positioned to take the ruling class down.
Djokovic in a class of his own
And yet, it didn’t matter one bit. It didn’t matter because Djokovic showed exactly how lethal he is on hard courts and forced Medvedev into a “doomed if he does, doomed if he doesn’t.” For the first time all tournament, the Russian won fewer than 70 per cent of his first serve points and fewer than half of his second serve points.
Not only that but Djokovic won more points and at a greater success rate than his opponent at the net and from the baseline. He also was better on rallies of 0-4 shots, 5-8 shots and 9+ shots.
The lone place where Medvedev held a small advantage was in the winners column, having hit 24 to Djokovic’s 20. Yet, what good does that do if your opponent forces you to 67 unforced errors against his 44?
What about the injury?
Perhaps most impressively, Djokovic announced after the match that he had indeed been injured: it was a tear of the oblique, apparently. Folks might have doubted him for whatever silly reason, but Djokovic had been injured in his third round match against Taylor Fritz. He had also won his 18th Grand Slam title nursing an ailment that would have left us bedside for two months.
You guessed it, the injury didn’t matter.
Novak Djokovic says that he had a muscle tear of his oblique and that his first comments after the Fritz match were accurate. He says that we’ll see it all in his upcoming documentary.
— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) February 21, 2021
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG