While the year 2020 left a lot to be desired from the tennis landscape, as well as sports in general amid a pandemic-stricken period, this year was a lot better as the world began to regain some normalcy.
Tennis returned full tilt – that isn’t to say that 2021 was without its difficulties – yet there were matches at every turn. The year also served up an entertaining rivalry between Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev, who ended at No.1 and No.2 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.
Novak has had storied campaigns against the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal but found himself a new nemesis in the form of Medvedev. It will be interesting to see how they get on next year and Fanduel Sportsbook will be one of the platforms presenting odds on their matchups.
Djokovic is the favorite for the first major of the year, the Australian Open, at 11/10 while Medvedev is right behind him at 9/4. Alexander Zverev and Nadal are 4/1 and 7/1 respectively; Stefanos Tsitsipas is 12/1.
Daniil beat Djokovic in the round-robin stage en route to the Nitto ATP Finals title at the end of the 2020 season. He approached the 2021 season with three wins against the Serbian star, having closed the gap to 3-4 where their ATP Head2Head was concerned.
The players faced off on three occasions this year and, with the days counting down to 2022, we’ll take a look at all of their battles.
Djokovic, who has been quite successful in Australia, went up against Medvedev in the finals of the Australian Open. It was always going to be a big one for the veteran as he was aiming to become just the second man to win nine or more titles at the same major event behind 13-time Roland Garros champion Nadal.
His competitors would not make it easy for him, though. He beat Taylor Fritz in five sets before playing four each against Milos Raonic and Alexander Zverev ahead of the championship match vs. Medvedev, who was on a 20-match win streak and had beaten Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas without losing a set.
Djokovic found proper form against the Russian to take a 3-0 lead in 10 minutes and showed no nerves in securing the result to win his 18th major title and a ninth Australian Open. He exploited Medvedev’s forehand throughout the match and forced 33 errors.
“Everyone talks about the new generation coming and taking over us, but realistically that isn’t happening still,” he said. “We can talk about it all day but with all my respect to the other guys, they still have a lot of work to do. I’m not going to stand here and hand it over to them. I’m going to make them work their a** off for that.”
Medvedev sought revenge in the US Open, with the pair meeting up again in the final.
Djokovic had won at Roland Garros and Wimbledon and was keen on becoming the first man to win all four majors in a single season since Rod Laver in 1969. There was also the satisfaction of breaking a tie with Federer and Nadal for the most major titles looming.
Medvedev, on the other hand, was intent on winning his first Grand Slam and did just that. He controlled the match from start to finish.
“He had a lot of pressure. I had a lot of pressure, too… I knew I cannot give him easy serves because that’s what he likes,” the Russian offered after the win. “So that was the plan. Because of the confidence in a lot of tight moments, I managed to do it well.”
Things swung back Djokovic’s way in their next meeting as the master defeated the student in the Rolex Paris Masters final. The Serbian went into the match hoping to bury the disappointment of his US Open loss and certainly looked up for it.
The match was the first Paris final in which the two top players in the FedEx ATP Rankings would be facing each other in over 30 years and they made it a spectacle. Djokovic served and volleyed on 22 occasions. His first was hit with angle short in the court and found success as Medvedev was standing quite deep to return serve. The veteran won 27 of 36 points at the net, dominating his opponent in rallies under five shots with 54 to Medvedev’s 34 to win his 48th game of the season and break a tie with Nadal for the most ATP Masters 1000 titles with 37.
“I went back and reviewed the final of the US Open to see what I did wrong and what I did right,” he explained at the end of the contest. “I tried to read the patterns of his serve and the ball toss, maybe. I tried to look for the small details because it was a match of small margins. He started better, broke my serve in the first game and I came back. He served the first set out pretty comfortably, but I felt as if I was there.”