A little before the world No.1 shaped a balletic step to nail an overhead volley that gave him a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 win, he pointed to his head, it’s where the championship was won. If his play was bold, his metal was unbending.
Daniil Medvedev, standing across the net from him, felt the full weight of the assault.
The near two-hour title match, played before a boisterous Melbourne Park crowd, gave Djokovic a record ninth Australian Open crown and his 18th Grand Slam title. Sunday’s victory put the Serb just two behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, in the hunt for major titles.
Djokovic, who lay spread-eagled on the court after the last point, looked to have added to his celebratory routine. He went down on his haunches and tapped court with his right palm, perhaps marking territory. He then headed to the stands and pulled his team, including coach Goran Ivanisevic, into a huddle.
The 33-year-old thanked the cobalt-hued Rod Laver Arena, which he might consider as an extension of his drawing room. Djokovic, who hasn’t lost a final here, called it an enduring ‘love affair’.
The champion took home $2,750,000 (AUD) for his effort while the Russian was richer by $1,500,000.
Djokovic said, “Emotionally this has been the most challenging Grand Slam that I ever had, with injury, off-the-court stuff, quarantines. It has been a roller-coaster ride in the last four weeks. A lot of mixed emotions.”
Djokovic, in his ninth Australian Open final, and the Russian, in only his second title round of a Slam, were expected to run each other close. Medvedev, who was on a 20-match winning streak coming into Sunday’s face-off, looked fluent in the run-up, and when he picked his play up in the first set, changing directions and opening the court to level at three games apiece, he appeared to signal that the final had begun.
At four-all and then five-all, there were moments when the reedy Russian seemed to have the measure of the man standing across the net from him. If Medvedev raised his level a notch to hold his serve at love in the tenth, Djokovic wasn’t far behind in the 11th . When serving to stay in the set, Djokovic pushed Medvedev on the backfoot, and the Russian fell behind 0-40 before surrendering serve and the early advantage.
It wasn’t forehands or backhands, drop shots or his elastic splits, but perhaps in the way Djokovic squared his shoulders at crucial junctures, you could see he raised his level when he needed to. Medvedev broke in the opening game of the second set, but Djokovic ran away with the next four.
If Medvedev likes to explore the court, looking for lines and angles, Djokovic enjoys testing his opponent’s fortitude, drawing them out of their comfort zone. The Serb was constantly trying to bring Medvedev to the net with drop shots and angled play, refusing to give him rhythm.
The slip slide first sparked in longer rallies. In points that were decided between five and eight shots, the top-seed won 20 of 32 exchanges, in those that went over nine balls, he won 15 of 28 to stamp his authority.
There was no coming back for Medvedev, who was broken in the second game of the third set. “I was there in the first set, I was up a break in the second, but in the end I lost in three sets, where I didn’t play bad, but I didn’t play my best level either.”