A Ninth for Novak
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic delivered a masterful display of tennis to win the 2021 Australian Open, defeating Russia’s Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 to claim his ninth title at the event and earn his 18th career Grand Slam.
“I would like to thank this court, I would like to thank Rod Laver Arena,” Djokovic said as he embraced the winning trophy. “I love you each year more and more—the love affair keeps going.”
In what was billed as a showdown between one of the Big Three and a member of the next generation of tennis greats, it was the elder player who reigned supreme. That build-up was part of Djokovic’s motivation as he knew what was at stake when he took on Medvedev.
"Everyone talks about the new generation coming and taking over us, but realistically that isn't happening still,” Djokovic told Eurosport. “We can talk about it all day but with all my respect to the other guys, they still have a lot of work to do. I'm not going to stand here and hand it over to them. I'm going to make them work their ass off for that."
After breaking to close the opening set, Djokovic was broken easily to begin the second set. But Medvedev could not capitalize on the opportunity, and gave the right back to the Serb, and the wheels began to come off from that point forward. After rolling through the second set, Djokovic had to save a couple of break points in the opening game of the third set, but after doing so, eventually built a 3-0 lead and never looked back.
In all, Djokovic needed just one hour and 53 minutes to claim his ninth major title Down Under, and inch closer towards Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on the all-time Grand Slam singles winner list, as his 18 titles is two less than those above him.
“Roger and Rafa inspire me. That's something that I've said before, I'll say it again. I think as long as they go, I'll go,” Djokovic said. “In a way it's like a race [of] who plays tennis more, I guess, and who wins more. It's a competition between us in all areas. But I think that's the very reason why we are who we are, because we do drive each other, we motivate each other, we push each other to the limit.”
Perhaps more impressive was that Djokovic played nearly the whole second half of his tournament with a muscle tear in his abdomen, something that continued to get worse as the event went on.
“Whether I was aware of the fact that I'm going to possibly make more damage and risk more damage to this injury? Yes, I was aware of that,” Djokovic said. “If there was any tournament, it's going to be here and it's going to be any major where I would risk worse injuries or damage in order to try to give myself a chance to go far in the tournament.
“Of course, I haven't done it myself. [The] medical team, my physio, [they] have done tremendous work. With God's grace, I managed to achieve what I achieved and I'm very thankful.”
Osaka Beats Brady for Fourth Major Title
Naomi Osaka continues to establish herself in the pantheon of the greats, claiming her fourth career major title with a straight-sets victory over American Jennifer Brady in the women’s singles final.
The third-seed Osaka won 6-4, 6-3 to claim her second Australian Open title in three years and extend her winning streak to 21 matches.
“For me, I have this mentality that people don’t remember the runners-up. You might, but the winner’s name is the one that’s engraved. I think I fight the hardest in the finals,” Osaka said leading up to the finals. “I think that’s where you sort of set yourself apart.”
That mentality has led to Osaka posting a 4-0 record in her major finals appearances, becoming the first woman to win her first four Grand Slam final matches since Monica Seles in the early 1990s, and only the third person in the last 50 years to accomplish, as Federer also did it.
“Well, my reaction is that that’s very amazing company,” said Osaka. “I hope that I can, have, like, one grain of how their career has unfolded. But, you can only wish and you can only just keep going down your own path. But, yeah, it's definitely something crazy to hear.”
The biggest game of the opening set came at 4-4 with Osaka serving. Brady got deep into the game, setting up a break point, but Osaka saved it with a deep return out wide that Brady was unable to get to. A few points later, Osaka would get her hold of serve, forcing Brady to serve to stay in the set.
At deuce in the next game, a floating shot from Osaka landed deep on the baseline forcing Brady to sail the ensuing shot wide. On the next point, a running forehand was set up for Brady but she fired it into the net, resulting in a 6-4 opening set victory for Osaka.
Osaka would break for 2-0 in the second set and continued putting distance between herself and Brady. After building a commanding lead, Osaka allowed Brady to sneak back into the match as the American got it to 3-5, but Osaka ended that run and closed out the match in one hour and 17 minutes.
“I don't look at expectations as a burden anymore,” Osaka added.“I feel like I'm at the point now where it's something that I've worked for. Like, people wouldn't expect things from me if I hadn't done things prior. If that makes sense. I feel like no one has expected things of me when I was younger, and now that I have kind of climbed up the ranks, of course there's going to be more pressures, but I feel like also that's motivation, because I also want to do better for myself, as well.”
Despite Singles Defeats, Mertens/Sabalenka Take Doubles Title
Two of the highest seeded players in the women’s singles draws teamed up on the doubles court Down Under, producing some flawless tennis en route to winning the women’s doubles title.
The second-seeded pairing of Belgium’s Elise Mertens and Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka beat the Czech duo of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova 6-2, 6-3, winning their second major title and fifth overall together.
“I know she can do it with her serve, it's like I'll just stand at the net,” Mertens said of the pair’s strategy. “We had a really good couple of weeks. We had a tough draw actually in doubles, so we really happy that we pulled through. Some days, like today, we just kept on fighting.”
The duo also won the U.S. Open title together two years ago in 2019. Earlier that year, they also won the Sunshine Double as the victors at both Miami and Indian Wells.
“I think in the semis we played much better. Today wasn’t the level which I expect, but we tried really hard no matter what,” said Sabalenka. “We’re just happy that we got it.”
Despite the success, the players announced their doubles partnership may be taking a pause as each player focuses on singles.
“Together we're not going to play Grand Slams, maybe a little bit of Premier tournaments,” Sabalenka said. “For this year, I want to put more focus on singles, so a little bit less doubles, see what happens.
“I just want to manage my energy. Still when you go out for doubles, you're still there for competing, to put everything you have…I just want to try something different this year.”
American Ram Pairs With Krejcikova to Win Mixed Doubles Titles
Rajeev Ram and Barbora Krejcikova are Australian Open Mixed Doubles champions once again.
The American-Czech duo won the title for the second time in three years as they defeated the Australian duo of Samantha Stosur and Matt Ebden 6-1, 6-4.
I’ve got to thank my partner. We had a year off as a team, but she didn’t. Three years running lifting this trophy is an amazing job,” said Ram. “I’ve faced Matt so many times over the years, we’ve been on tour together for so many years, always a pleasure to play you. Sam is obviously a legend, especially in Australian tennis, real pleasure to share the court with you guys.
This is so cool, especially in front of you guys, we haven’t played with fans in such a long time.”
The title is Krejcikova’s third-straight in Melbourne. After pairing with Ram to win the event in 2019, she played with Croatia’s Nikola Mektic to win the 2020 title. Her and Ram reunited this year and did not miss a beat, dropping only one set throughout the whole tournament.
Dodig, Polasek Win First Grand Slam Title Together
Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek knocked off the defending champions to win their first Grand Slam doubles title together, knocking off Ram and Joe Salisbury 6-3, 6-4 to claim the men’s doubles title.
“Since we started to play one and a half years ago, we are really enjoying and playing good tennis,” said Dodig. “We are having a lot of fun and hopefully it is going to continue."
The Croatian-Slovakian pairing got the key game in the sixth game of the opening set when they were able to break the serve of Ram. Another break in the middle of the second set, this time on Salisbury’s serve, proved to be the difference as Dodig and Polasek went on to win the match in straight sets.
“Just got to say big congratulations to Ivan and Filip,” said Salisbury. “That was way too good today. Gotta be one of the best performances in a final ever.”