In an unsurprising men’s final at the Australian Open tonight, it’s the top two tournament favorites from the start with Novak Djokovic going for a record-extending ninth Melbourne title against Daniil Medvedev who has never won a final this big before.
I picked Djokovic at the start of the event (as did so many others), and I’m going to stick with that prediction. But…Wow is Medvedev playing some good tennis.
The big Russian has won his last 20 matches and other then a blip against Filip Krajinovic in the third round — which led to his first career five set win — he’s been untouchable and untroubled.
I thought on this quick court that his countryman Andrey Rublev would give him problems, but Medvedev broke his spirit early. And then Stefanos Tsitsipas just didn’t have any answers against the Russian.
But Rublev has never won a set against Medvedev and Tsitsipas is now 1-6 vs. Daniil. Djokovic has won sets, has won matches and has won very big matches.
Djokovic beat Medvedev at the Australian Open in a tough fourth rounder in 2019. And again last year in the ATP Cup semifinals in another thriller. He leads 4-3 overall but Medvedev has won three of the last four and of these two coming, he’s been the more in-form player — he’s won his last three tournaments!
On these slick courts, I think the key will be the serve. Medvedev has been serving really, really well this week. Better than Djokovic even though the Serb has been racking up the aces.
But Medvedev with that wingspan is going to be tough to ace. And Daniil is also breaking serve more efficiently than Novak. He’s been a machine in that department.
So the serve and the return I’m going to give to Medvedev. Off the ground I’ll give the edge to Novak and call their speed, net game and defense as even, though for 6-foot-6 Medvedev sure flies around the court.
I think Novak will use the slice a lot. On a low-bouncing court that should be effective against the big guy.
I know Novak had this ab issue, but after two days off I’m going to say he’s OK. And Medvedev should be fine, as well (it’s going to be cool Sunday night in Melbourne).
If Medvedev were playing anyone else in the field, he’d be the favorite and I would pick him based on form. But like Rafael Nadal has Chatrier, Djokovic has Rod Laver and he’s never lost as the top seed at the tournament (41-0) and he’s never lost in this final (8-0).
“When Novak says he’s not going to hand anything to somebody, I believe him,” said Medvedev. “I know that to beat him you need to show your best tennis, be at your best physically maybe four or five hours and be at your best mentally maybe for five hours.
“You never know how the match is going to go. To win a Slam, especially against somebody like Novak, is already a big motivation, and I don’t think there’s anything that can make it bigger. I like Novak. I appreciate him as a tennis player. So I don’t take these words as something negative. I’m quite motivated without those words. I have nothing to lose, to be honest.”
Said Djokovic, “Being in this situation before many times I think helps me kind of gather all the necessary elements for me to peak at the right time, which is happening again.”
I think having played Nadal in that US Open final will be a great aid for Medvedev, but I don’t think it will be enough to get him over the finishing line here. He’ll keep it close, he’ll break Novak a bunch of times but in the end I think the Serb somehow comes out on top.
The Pick: Djokovic in 5
What would surprise me? Djokovic in an easy three sets. I could see Medvedev blowing Novak out or either winning in four of five, but Medvedev is so rock-solid right now that he’s going to be a problem, and Djokovic is going to have to solve that problem to a 18th Slam.
ESPN has the match live at 3:30am ET. If you can’t make it that early, there’s a good chance if you wake around 8am ET the match will still be going. Expect long points, long games, lots of screaming from Nova and Medvedev trying to get the crowd going.
The tournament began three weeks later and players had to endure a quarantine. And we still got the final we thought we would.
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