Novak Djokovic knows how to win an Australian Open final. In fact, he only knows how to win an Australian Open final, winning all eight showpiece matches he has played at Melbourne Park over the course of his career. The Serbian is the most successful male player in the tournament’s history and is within touching distance of becoming the most successful male player in Grand Slam history.
Indeed, Djokovic is just three behind both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in their tally of 20 Grand Slam titles. Everything the Serbian does now is seen through the prism of history and how he will be remembered once this era of men’s tennis is over.
By beating Aslan Karatsev in Thursday’s semi-final, Djokovic became the first male player to make three Australian Open finals after turning 30. Men’s tennis is currently an old man’s game with predictions of a rising new generation taking over the top level of the sport so far failing to materialise.
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Now, though, there may be signs of a generational shift. Dominic Thiem won last year’s US Open to become the first male player outside the Big Three since Andy Murray in 2016 to win a Grand Slam title and Sunday will see Daniil Medvedev play his second major final having taken Nadal to five sets in the final at Flushing Meadows in 2019.
On current form, Medvedev could be considered the favourite to win on Sunday, having won 20 straight matches. But the Australian Open brings out the best in Djokovic. The conditions, the court, even the temperature, it all suits him. Federer has Centre Court, Nadal has Court Philippe Chatrier and Djokovic has Rod Laver Arena.
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“There has been a lot of talk about the new generation coming and taking over the three of us, but, realistically that isn’t happening still,” Djokovic said in the Eurosport Cube ahead of his clash with Medvedev.
"We can talk about it all day if you want, but with all my respect about the other guys, they still have a lot of work to do.
Of course Dominic Thiem winning a Grand Slam title is fantastic. These guys are very strong, play high-quality tennis, without a doubt. Certainly they will be the leaders of the future of tennis, without a doubt, but I’m not going to stand here and hand it over to them. I’m going to make them work their ass off for it.
There would be an undeniable symbolism to a Medvedev victory over Djokovic on Sunday. Even though Thiem achieved his breakthrough moment at last September’s US Open, Djokovic essentially dethroned himself by defaulting in the fourth round. This time, the Serbian will have to be toppled in a one-on-one contest.
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Medvedev has won three of the four tour matches he has played against Djokovic. There is something about the Russian’s game that seems to unsettle the world number one. Of course, he’s not the only one to suffer in this way against Medvedev, a player whose unorthodox technique makes him so difficult to read.
Djokovic is in the serving form of his life at the moment, but this match-up pits him against one of the best neutralisers of serve on hard courts in the men’s game. The Serbian has shown a willingness to shorten points at this year’s Australian Open, particularly after suffering an abdominal injury in the third round, serving 100 aces at the tournament. Medvedev will make it difficult to do this.
Men’s tennis has waited years for the baton to be passed at the top of the sport. It craves a neat and tidy changeover, like the one witnessed between Federer and Pete Sampras in the early 2000s. So far, tennis has been denied this changing of the guard. Djokovic will still stick around even if he loses on Sunday. Nonetheless, this match could prove that at long last the next generation is here.
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