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Ricky’s Preview and Pick for the Australian Open Men’s Singles Final: Djokovic vs. Medvedev

Daniil Medvedev rides a 12-match winning streak vs. Top 10 opponents into the Australian Open final. EPA-EFE/DAVE HUNT

By Ricky Dimon

Roger Federer did not play in the tournament and Rafael Nadal lost in the quarterfinals, but true tennis fans will appreciate that Sunday’s Australian Open final has left us with the best current matchup in the sport: Novak Djokovic vs. Daniil Medvedev.

First and foremost, Djokovic and Medvedev are the two best players in the world right now. Djokovic is ranked No. 1, and he is also an eight-time champion of the Australian Open. Medvedev, who will climb to at least No. 3 on Monday (No. 2 if he wins), is riding an incredible 20-match winning streak that includes a laughable 12-0 record against Top-10 opponents.

Moreover, their head-to-head matches are almost always wildly entertaining. They wield similar styles of play that often lead to marathon matches. Djokovic owns a slight 4-3 lead in their competitive seven-match series and only one of their last five contests has ended in straight sets (Medvedev’s 6-3, 6-3 victory at the 2020 Nitto ATP Finals). The Russian has won three of their four most recent meetings.

Although experience obviously favors Djokovic, Medvedev could hardly have accounted himself better in his previous slam final appearance. At the 2019 U.S. Open, he battled back from two sets down before falling to Nadal 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 in four hours and 51 minutes. The world No. 4 is back on that stage again following victories this fortnight over Vasek Pospisil, Roberto Carballes Baena, Filip Krajinovic, Mackenzie McDonald, Andrey Rublev, and Stefanos Tsitsipas. He dropped two sets to Krajinovic (dominated the fifth 6-0) but has otherwise defeated every opponent in straights.

Novak Djokovic plays for a record-extending ninth Australian Open championship. EPA-EFE/DEAN LEWINS

Djokovic’s path to the title match was far more circuitous. The main stumbling block came in round three, when he suffered an abdominal injury against Taylor Fritz before surviving in five sets. The top-seeded Serb also dropped sets to Frances Tiafoe, Milos Raonic, and Alexander Zverev.With that he is back in his favorite spot, the Australian Open final, where he is 8-0 lifetime.

“I think he’s the favorite because he has never lost,” Medvedev noted. “In eight occasions that he was here in the semis, he won the tournament. Me, I’m not an outsider, but I’m the challenger–the guy that challenges the guy who was eight times in the final and won eight times. And I’m happy about it.

“I like to play against Novak. We have always had tough matches physically, mentally. And he’s one of the greatest tennis players in the history of tennis. So playing (the) final against him is superb…. For sure when we get out there we both feel pressure. I want to win my first one; he wants to win No. 18. I think if we talk in general, well, I have nothing to lose to be honest.”

Clearly Medvedev is an expert tactician with his words just like he is on the tennis court. And Djokovic used the same strategy in the press room prior to Sunday’s final.

“Medvedev, as I said previously, is the player to beat,” the 17-time major champion commented. “He’s on a big winning streak. He ended the (2020) season (in the) best possible fashion–winning quite comfortably, actually, against top players, against myself in straight sets in London. He just has improved a lot.

“It’s (the) finals, so you have to expect that you’re going to play the finals against one of the best players in the world. To win one of the greatest titles in the world, you’ve got to be the best.”

Sunday is the best of all time in Melbourne vs. the best on tour at the moment. Given Medvedev’s edge in current form and the way he handled the moment in his previous major final, the challenger gets the nod for a minor upset.

Ricky pick: Medvedev in 5

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.