Novak Djokovic has taken another step towards being recognised as the greatest tennis player in history with his 18th Grand Slam title and ninth Australian Open crown.
Djokovic played outstanding tennis in beating Daniil Medvedev 7-5 6-2 6-2 in less than two hours in Sunday’s final in Melbourne. It was a remarkable turnaround from nine days earlier, when he seemed to be on the point of exiting the tournament with an abdominal muscle injury.
“I had a tear,” Djokovic confirmed after his win over Medvedev, referring to the moment in the third set of his third round match against Taylor Fritz when he felt something bad in his stomach. “I felt it snap, and I wasn’t sure if I could play my fourth round match until two hours before. That was when I first went on court after the Fritz match to practise, and I realised the pain was at a level that I could play with.”
The story of how Djokovic recovered, assisted by his Argentinean fitness coach Ulises Badio, is being saved for a documentary about the Serbian due to be broadcast later this year, but it was clear he was playing better and better as the tournament went on. And his movement in the final clearly eroded Medvedev’s confidence and showed that the up-and-coming generation still has to improve to supplant Djokovic and his contemporaries.
Djokovic has made it clear his primary motivation for playing is to win more major titles, and he is willing to change his schedule to give himself the maximum chance. “I don’t feel old or tired,” he said, “but I have to be realistic, and the number of chances I’ll have of winning a Grand Slam title will get less as the new generation get better. They will eventually take over, but I hope it’s not for a few years yet.”
Focusing on major titles could mean Djokovic will have to focus less on staying at the top of the rankings, but he has already done enough to exceed Roger Federer’s record of 310 weeks as world No 1. Djokovic will equal that record by topping the 1 March ranking list, and surpass it on 8 March when he posts his 311th week at the pinnacle. It is a remarkable achievement which further makes his claim for greatness.
The Australian Open also witnessed the breakthrough tournament for HEAD’s rising Russian Aslan Karatsev. He became the first qualifier to reach the semi-finals in his first Grand Slam tournament, before losing to Djokovic, and will jump not just into the world’s top 100 for the first time but into the top 50 when this week’s ranking list is published.
There were also titles for HEAD’s Elise Mertens in the women’s doubles (alongside Aryna Sabalenka), Barbora Krejcikova in the mixed (alongside Rajeev Ram), and the all-Head men’s doubles pair of Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek who lifted the men’s doubles title, Polasek revealing afterwards that his first Grand Slam title had come just two days after the birth of his second daughter.