MELBOURNE, Australia – All eyes will be on the Rod Laver Arena on Sunday as world champion Novak Djokovic battles ardent Daniil Medvedev for the Australian Open singles title (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN / ESPN app).
The pair had contrasting runs to the finals at Melbourne Park. Djokovic, an eight-time Australian Open champion, came into the fortnight as the man to beat. After apparently tearing an oblique muscle against American Taylor Fritz in the third round, there were serious doubts that he could continue his quest for an 18th major title.
Since then, Djokovic has taken comfortable wins against Milos Raonic, Alexander Zverev and Aslan Karatsev, and fears about the mysterious injury have subsided.
Meanwhile, Medvedev has continued his spectacular hard court form, dominating anyone who has been on the opposite baseline. The Russian is driving a 20-match winning streak on the surface, with 11 of those wins being played against top 10 players. Medvedev is looking for his first big title and if he catches it in Melbourne this weekend it will rise to number 2 in the world.
What are the keys to the final? ESPN analysts Patrick McEnroe, Brad Gilbert and Darren Cahill preview the game.
The experience factor
McEnroe: I like how Djokovic tried to turn it around and put pressure on Medvedev by saying [Medvedev is] to beat the player. Medvedev may have only played one slam final, but it was a great game and he showed tremendous determination, courage and perseverance to take it down to five sets. His tactics were mostly spot on. If Medvedev loses this match, I don’t think it will be because he lacks a lot of experience in the final or because he has stage fright, but because Djokovic took the game away from him.
Gilbert: Djokovic is 8-0 in Melbourne and Rafa is 13-0 in Paris. That’s 21: 0 on these two places. So yes, experience is definitely important! One thing that I find really important to Medvedev is that he had never won a match in five sets, he was 6-0, but he won one early here against Filip Krajinovic. I think it was a big psychological thing for him to have won this match in five games and it’s something he could fall back on in the final if it goes deep.
Cahill: Experience counts a lot and I think Medvedev talked about it very well after his final against Rafael Nadal at the US Open a few years ago. It wasn’t that he had played the wrong strokes, he just lacked the experience of being there in that moment. He was lovable two sets less and played two amazing sets to get back before Nadal picked up and won again. But now that he’s been in that position before, he can look back on it and get a bit more experience and not be afraid of the finish line if he gets that opportunity. That will help him. On the other hand, Novak has been there many times. It’s second nature to him. This is not the case for someone like Medvedev, and he has to assert himself.
How does Djokovic stop the most shapely man in tennis?
McEnroe: Djokovic has looked fantastic in the last two games and will continue the game that brought him eight titles in Australia. He won’t worry about what Medvedev did to Tsitsipas, who was way too inconsistent. Djokovic won’t be that inconsistent, especially on this surface. Tactically, Djokovic is brilliant. He knows how to control the pace of a game, when to attack and when to play it safe. The faster dish will also help him get a lot more out of his serve. He knows what to do to get the job done.
Gilbert: I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the tactics for Djokovic change as he has now lost three out of four to him. The only thing difficult about Medvedev, who runs like the wind, is that he is difficult to break through. I wouldn’t be surprised if Djokovic uses a few more discs and plays a few balls in the middle and gets Medvedev to launch the offensive. Novak also did an incredibly good service. He had more aces in this tournament than ever in a slam. He can definitely take some free points on his serve and attack on the plus one serve, but I really expect him to vary his steps.
Cahill: Attending every tournament, Novak knows his tennis is better than anyone else’s, especially on a hard court down here in Australia. There’s nothing he needs to do differently, and he won’t worry about what he saw in Medvedev’s win over Tsitsipas on Friday night. Tsitsipas struggled tremendously with the ball for the kneecaps, and that’s because of the way Medvedev hits his backhand – like a laser arrow that’s actually a little under spin as it crosses the net. For a one-hander, that was a nightmare for Tsitsipas, but that doesn’t mind Novak, who has a two-handed backhand, and he’ll handle this shot much more comfortably. Novak has the best return on the game, so Medvedev’s service games in the final won’t be that easy. Novak will try to reduce the casual mistakes and test Medvedev’s legs to see if he can handle the physicality.
How does Medvedev dethrone the king?
McEnroe: Medvedev combines attack and defense very well and finding balance in the final will be crucial. His weakness is probably in the forecourt as his volleyball game leaves something to be desired. If he wants to succeed against Djokovic, he has to score points on the net as a grassroots competition could be problematic for him. Medvedev’s first serve is a huge weapon as well and we know Djokovic is the best returner in the game. That will be an interesting dynamic to watch throughout the game to see who is willing to take more risks.
Gilbert: What Medvedev can do is a really good counter-blow against Novak. He can sit back, use his backhand, and take part in those long rallies. That’s a recipe he likes and wants to do in the finals. He must also try to gain free points from the serve he made against him at the ATP Finals in London. If he can do both, he is definitely an opportunity.
Cahill: That’s the big question. The field is playing faster than normal, and Medvedev was able to win a bunch of free points on his first serve. It has to go on and he has to be very aggressive on his second serve. Medvedev has to start well because Novak is such a great front runner and we’ve seen Medvedev have more and more problems over the course of the game than they played at the Australian Open in 2019. Sure he is a better player now, but is he good enough to beat Novak?
Who wins and why?
McEnroe: Djokovic is the favorite and rightly so, but I think it’s Medvedev’s time and he’s playing the kind of game that Djokovic can really upset. Medvedev is the closest player to Djokovic as he can manipulate his opponent defensively and change the pace. It could get into Djokovic’s head. I’m not sure if this will signal the changing of the guard, but I’ll take Medvedev in four really tight sentences.
Gilbert: Both guys will be rested after routine semi-final wins and I hope we get a five-set classic. But I have to go in four sets with Djokovic just because he is 8-0 in the Australian Open final and knows how to handle the occasion.
Cahill: This will be like the Queen’s Gambit match; a game of chess between two really smart tennis players. I assume it’s incredibly physical and that will benefit Novak. Even if it is a set after an hour and 45 minutes to two hours, the benefit goes to Novak afterwards. I take Novak in four sentences.