Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 tennis player in the world, won his ninth Australian Open title on Sunday and 18th Grand Slam overall, dominating No. 4 Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 in a surprisingly lopsided final. The Serbian’s nine titles set a men’s tournament record and are the second most by any man in any Grand Slam event, behind Rafael Nadal’s 13 titles at the French Open.
Roger Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, considered the Big Three of men’s tennis, have won a combined 58 Grand Slam championships. With the absence of Federer from the Australian Open — due to either his wife Mirka’s opposition or injury — tennis’s Big Three was reduced to a two-horse race between Djokovic and Nadal.
According to Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanišević, this victory was a much-needed boost for the star tennis player. Djokovic was disqualified in shocking fashion from last year’s U.S. Open in September when he swatted a ball that hit a line judge. Djokovic’s character has also been under additional scrutiny throughout the Australian Open. Prior to the start of the tournament, the Serbian released a controversial letter listing “quarantine demands” for the 72 players who were placed in hard lockdown, after the group was potentially exposed to COVID-19 while traveling to Australia. The excessiveness of Djokovic’s demands — which included moving the players into private homes — was widely scrutinized and the list was rejected by Victorian Premier Dan Andrews.
Following his third-round win over American Taylor Fritz, Djokovic told the press he believed he had torn an abdominal muscle and that he was considering withdrawing from the tournament. Just two days later, he returned to defeat Milos Raonic, sparking accusations that the Serbian had exaggerated or completely lied about the state of his injury. Djokovic’s infamous temper nearly bested him in the quarterfinal, when the veteran destroyed his racket in anger during his win over Alexander Zverev.
In the Australian final, many believed Medvedev could pull off an upset. The Russian entered the final on a 20-match win streak and won his previous three matches in straight sets. Djokovic noted that Medvedev was one of the toughest he’s ever played against. “It’s only a matter of time before you hold a Grand Slam trophy. If you can wait a few more years, I’d appreciate it,” Djokovic said to Medvedev during his award ceremony. “It’s amazing that he has put together a 20-match winning streak over the past few months.”
Medvedev started out strong, losing in a close 7-5 first set before “the King of Melbourne Park” stepped up the intensity. Likely in part due to the pressure of the situation, the less experienced Medvedev committed 30 unforced errors to Djokovic’s 15. Djokovic had just three aces, but he won 73% of the points on his first serve and 58% on his second, numbers that usually translate to a dominant performance.
Djokovic has now maintained the No. 1 ranking in men’s tennis for 311 weeks, the longest span in tennis history. This accomplishment has certainly not been easy, especially during this tournament. “Definitely, emotionally, the most challenging Grand Slam that I ever had, with everything that was happening — injury, off-the-court stuff, quarantines,” Djokovic said. After receiving his award, Djokovic’s final thank you went out to Rod Laver Arena. “I would like to thank this court,” he said. “I love you each year more and more. It’s been a love affair that keeps growing.”
On the women’s side of the bracket, Naomi Osaka secured her fourth Grand Slam title Sunday with a victory over Jennifer Brady in the Australian Open final. She remains undefeated in Grand Slam finals after winning six consecutive games between the first and second set, pulling away from Brady. The 2020 AP Female Athlete of the Year has staked her claim as the best player in tennis, as she currently holds a 21-match winning streak.
Osaka certainly had a challenging road to the title. In her round of 16 match against 14th-seeded Garbine Muguruza, she lost the first set 6-4, but was able to rally in a massive challenge, winning the final two sets 6-4 and 7-5 to reach the quarterfinal. In the semifinal, Osaka had to face Serena Williams. The 39-year-old Williams has won the most Grand Slam titles of all time, and is widely considered the greatest to ever play.
Yet Williams was no match for Osaka. The Japanese native, who looks up to Williams as the ultimate role model, dominated the proceedings, winning 6-3, 6-4. “Just to be on the court playing against her, for me, is a dream,” Osaka said. Many are speculating this could mark the end of Williams’ career, but Osaka is hopeful this isn’t the case.
“It’s kind of sad when you say it like that because, for me, I want her to play forever,” she told reporters. “That’s the little kid in me.” If Williams does retire, Osaka has certainly established herself as the next face of women’s tennis, both on and off the court. In recent months, she has voiced her support for victims of police brutality, often wearing masks with the names of victims written on them as she enters the court.
The next Grand Slam opportunity for these stars is the French Open in Paris, which will begin on May 17. Despite winning the Australian Open and holding the No. 1 ranking, Djokovic likely will not be the favorite at Roland Garros. Rafael Nadal is widely considered the best clay player ever; having won 13 French Open championships, seven more than second-place Bjorn Bjorg. As for Naomi Osaka, the Japanese star will look to extend her match win streak and win a third consecutive major. Following her victory over Williams in the Australian Open semifinals, it is clear Osaka is the best player in the sport at the moment. The question is if anyone can pull off an upset. For now, players will recover from a hard-fought tournament Down Under.