Novak Djokovic vs. Daniil Medvedev
Elastic Tennis vs. Amoeba Tennis
I watched Novak Djokovic practice in Cincinnati and was taken with how smooth his swings were and what a great economy of motion he had. That was over a decade ago, but Djokovic’s flexibility, defensive skills, ability to take the ball early, his keen strategic mind, and more have led him to posting one of the most historic tennis careers ever. He is still #1 and still winning quite often so his historical haul is also still rapidly growing.
Daniil Medvedev’s tennis in some ways looks a bit awkward. It looks very hard to replicate, but when he is doing these “awkward” things it is clear that he is not off balance or thrown by what he is doing on court. Medvedev like Djokovic has keen mind for problem solving. Beyond that their two games are not terribly similar. Yet, his adaptable game is a good foil for Djokovic’s defensive skills. Medvedev’s game is very malleable and can attack Djokovic in a myriad of ways without relying on one pattern of attack.
It is a fascinating match-up in part because Medvedev’s game is one possible response in the arms race of tennis to Djokovic’s dominance. Medvedev is tall, but does not play like Juan Martin del Potro or Marin Cilic. He is a shot-maker, particularly with his running forehand, but is also a great mover.
Djokovic is 8-0 (!) in Australian Open finals. He is #1 in the world. He is the clear favorite to win any Australian Open until someone else proves otherwise. Daniil Medvedev ended 2020 by winning the Bercy and World Tour Finals (including a straight set win over Djokovic in round robin play). He opened 2021 by helping Russia take the 2nd ATP Cup. Throw in 6 more wins with only two sets lost and 18 sets won. Medvedev has momentum.
Djokovic has 8 Australian Open titles. Medvedev has 9 career titles. On paper, Djokovic has to be the pick. Medvedev’s mind has been praised by John McEnroe. Boris Becker raved about Djokovic’s chess playing skills. Physically, Djokovic played pain free in his semifinal match and had an extra day off. Medvedev is younger and had a smoother road to the final. Two of the best minds in tennis will battle for the first big prize of 2021.
What will Happen?
As I said, on paper Djokovic is the favorite. Medvedev is in his second major final. He did acquit himself well in a 5-set thrilled vs. Rafael Nadal in the 2019 US Open final. He rallied from two sets down and nearly claimed his first major. Still, winning a first major is a massive hurdle even if one is not facing the greatest Australian Open champion ever in the Australian Open final when he is still the best player in the world. The odds are long for Medvedev.
Prior to the tournament I picked Medvedev to win unless Djokovic was in BEAST mode. Djoker has had his share of lost sets and close/closeish calls. I will stick with my original pick then and say Medvedev rises to the highest of occasions and topples the Monarch of Melbourne in an instant classic. Both men will need at least 2 breaks per set to feel good about salting a set away as each can return and break with great proficiency. I think Medvedev’s return and what he follows it up with during points when Djokovic is serving bother the world #1 just enough to lead to:
Daniil Medvedev d. Novak Djokovic 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5
PS – X-Factor – Moxy
Daniil Medvedev took on an entire New York crowd and has an edgy personality that may be needed for beating one of the Big 3 on their home turf. Self-belief is part of the equation, and Medvedev has an excess of self-belief.