Final Preview: Djokovic vs Medvedev

Final Preview: Djokovic vs Medvedev

4 min read

Novak Djokovic vs. Daniil Medvedev

When Novak Djokovic steps onto Rod Laver Arena on Sunday, he will be looking to collect an unprecedented ninth Australian Open trophy and creep within two Grand Slam titles of the major record currently shared by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

An irreverent Daniil Medvedev, historically unbothered by Djokovic’s track record and buoyed by a 20-match win streak, will be waiting to stop him.

One look at their head-to-head record, which Djokovic leads 4-3, or their UTR rankings, which places Daniil Medvedev at No. 2 (15.91) and Djokovic at No. 3 (15.74), and a tight battle seems inevitable. The UTR “Win Probability” gives Medvedev a slight edge at 59%, meaning there is a 100% chance fans should have popcorn easily accessible for this matchup.

Medvedev won their most recent contest 6-3, 6-3 en route to his Nitto ATP Finals title last November. Only one of their other six meetings has been straight sets—a win for Djokovic on the grass at Eastbourne in 2017. The rest have been back-and-forth affairs with Medvedev’s low skidding balls and smart, unpredictable shot selection challenging Djokovic’s power, placement and endurance.

“He's just so solid,” Djokovic said of Medvedev. “Also, I heard Jim Courier calling him a master chess player because of the way he tactically positions himself on the court, and it's true. He's definitely a very smart tennis player.”

Djokovic heads into Sunday’s final looking to extend his jaw-dropping 8-for-8 record in Australian Open finals, notch a second three-peat in Melbourne and capture his 82nd career singles title.

“Prior to coming into the finals, knowing that I never lost in the finals or semifinals just makes me feel more comfortable being on the court,” Djokovic said. “But each year is different, although it does have a mental effect on me, and maybe on my opponents.”

The 33-year-old’s straight-sets win over Aslan Karatsev in the semifinals brings him to 81-8 in 17 appearances at the Australian Open. But the Serbian superstar will no doubt be happy with the two days of rest he enjoyed before Sunday’s championship match. His path to the final has not been a completely straightforward one, making each moment of respite key.

Djokovic dropped at least one set in four of his six matches, facing his strictest test against American Taylor Fritz, who pushed him to a decider. He appears to have managed an abdominal injury suffered early in the third set of that match, going on to defeat three more quality opponents: Milos Raonic, Alexander Zverev and Karatsev.

Raonic’s UTR rank of No. 9 has him trending above his ATP rank of No. 14, and the Canadian managed to take one set from Djokovic before bowing out. Djokovic also dropped a set to Zverev, who was the best opponent he faced based on ATP rank (7) and UTR rank (8), in a three hour and 30-minute quarterfinal battle.

And while his win over qualifier Karatsev may have seemed like a foregone conclusion given his ATP rank of No. 114, not many players could claim to be better prepared heading into Australia than the 27-year-old Russian. He played 72 matches in 2020 between last summer’s UTR Pro Tennis Series, Challenger and ATP events, which is highlighted by his current UTR Rank of No. 15.

Despite one less day of rest prior to the final, Medvedev, 25, is eight years Djokovic’s junior and comes in with just one complicated match under his belt: a five-set win over another Serbian, Filip Krajinovic. That result is perhaps less surprising given that Krajinovic’s UTR rank of 13 (15.35) trends far above his ATP rank of No. 33.

Medvedev took advantage of a drained Stefanos Tsitsipas, who defeated Nadal in a five-set quarterfinal, notching a 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 victory in the semis. Two ATP rankings positions and five UTR ranking slots separated Medvedev and Tsitsipas as they walked onto the court, which reflects Medvedev’s red-hot performance leading into the Australian Open.

Though Medvedev does not have experience on his side with only one prior major final to his name, he does have plenty of momentum. His 20-match win streak includes 12 wins over top-10 players. In fact, he’s taken out each member of the top 10 (minus the inactive Roger Federer) since November, including Nadal, who is the only player with a higher UTR (15.97).

“For the confidence, when you beat everybody, it is just great, because I think people start to be a little bit scared about you,” said Medvedev. “At the same time, sometimes there are going to be some that are going to want to beat you even more.”

If history is any indication, Djokovic will fall into the latter camp.

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