tennis

Novak Djokovic wins 18th Grand Slam, closes in on Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

February 21

The king of the Australian Open has added another jewel to his crown.

Novak Djokovic fended off Daniil Medvedev in straight sets to win his record ninth Australian Open title and 18th Grand Slam overall, putting him within touching distance of the men's record of 20 shared by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Medvedev entered the final on a 20-match winning streak, but the 33-year-old Djokovic soon cooled the Russian's hot hand.

At one point in the first set, Djokovic ran out to a 3-0 lead, only to see it evaporate as Medvedev battled back to 3-3.

Both men settled into the match and held firm on serve, but with the score 6-5 in favor of Djokovic, the world No. 1 seized the opportunity to break Medvedev and win the opening set.

The defending champion had three bites at the apple with a 40-love lead in the set's decisive game, eventually sealing the deal on 40-30 to wrap up the win, 7-5, before cruising 6-2, 6-2 in the match's final two sets.

Djokovic confirmed he'd been dealing with an abdominal injury suffered earlier in the tournament en route to his victory, making his performance against the 25-year-old Medvedev all the more impressive.

He tore an abdominal oblique muscle during his third-round victory against Taylor Fritz, per ATPTour.com, and was unsure if he'd be able to carry on through the tournament. 

But the pain level was "bearable," Djokovic said, and winning another Slam was worth risking further injury. 

"I just accepted the fact that I'm going to have to play with the pain. ... 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."

Given Djokovic's perseverance, it's little surprise that his opponent called him one of the "cyborgs of tennis." 

In his post-match press conference, Medvedev showered Djokovic with praise for his track record, along with Federer and Nadal's.

Speaking of which, Djokovic also touched on the two co-leaders for most men's Grand Slam victories in his post-match comments.

"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. 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."

The 39-year-old Federer withdrew before the tournament began as he recovers from surgery on his right knee, and the second-seeded 34-year-old Nadal fell in the quarterfinals to No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas.

With the door widened to claim his ninth Australian Open title, Djokovic rose to the occasion.

Now, the question turns to whether or not Djokovic can catch, or even surpass, Federer and Nadal's record of 20 Grand Slam titles. It's a desire that's certainly on Djokovic's mind going forward.

"Whether I think about winning more Slams and breaking records, of course. Of course, I do. And most of my attention and my energy from this day forward, until I retire from tennis, is going to be directed in majors and trying to win more major trophies."

The next Grand Slam on the tennis calendar this year is the French Open, beginning in the final week of May.

As Djokovic has enjoyed dominating in Melbourne, Nadal remains the unstoppable force on the red clay of Roland Garros, hoisting the Coupe des Mousquetaires the past four years straight and 13 times in total.

Wimbledon follows from late June to early July, where Djokovic could make it three straight titles at Centre Court. Of course, Federer holds the record at Wimbledon with eight total trophies, and should presumably be sufficiently recovered from surgery to stake his claim.

Also in the mix ⁠— looking to stymie Djokovic's chase efforts as well as thwart Federer and Nadal from extending their record ⁠— are the likes of Medvedev, the 27-year-old Dominic Thiem, 22-year-old Tsitsipas and 23-year-old Alexander Zverev.

But while time might not be on the side of the trio of thirtysomethings in Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, experience is, especially on the biggest stages in tennis.

As promising as the next crop of rising stars in men's tennis is, it seems the "Big 3" will have their say until they decide otherwise.

That was made clear on Sunday morning. 


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