Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic
AFP

Melbourne: Novak Djokovic has further etched himself into tennis history, clinching a third Australian Open title in succession and record-extending ninth in all with a comprehensive 7-5 6-2 6-2 victory over Daniil Medvedev.

"I would like to thank this court, I would like to thank Rod Laver Arena, I love you each year more and more - the love affair keeps going," Djokovoic said, arms wrapped around the coveted Norman Brookes Challenge Cup once again, describing his AO2021 campaign, which featured an abdominal injury, as a rollercoaster.

The win, which took one hour and 53 minutes, takes the world no.1’s total Grand Slam count to 18, two shy of the 20 held by rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Playing in cool conditions on Rod Laver Arena, the 25 year-old Medvedev, contesting his second major final, was broken in his opening service game.

The top seeded Serb consolidated the break for a 3-0 lead, at which point things were looking bleak for his Russian opponent, who had won just three points.

But the fourth seed played himself into the match. In the fifth game, he won a high-intensity 28 stroke rally that Djokovic tried to end with a failed drop shot that set him up with break point opportunities – the first which Medvedev captured after a Djokovic smash landed straight in the net.

Suddenly, the match was back on serve and a resurgent Medvedev, the youngest Australian Open men’s singles finalist since Djokovic in 2012, held to love.

An enthralled crowd that included AO2020 women’s singles champion Sofia Kenin were captivated as cat-and-mouse exchanges ensued, with the 33 year-old Djokovic mixing in slice backhands and drop shots with his trademark groundstrokes, tactics the Serb employed in his AO2019 fourth round win over Medvedev.

The No. 4-ranked Medvedev was appearing in his second Grand Slam final - he was the runner-up to Nadal at the 2019 U.S. Open - but is still left trying collect his first such championship.

Djokovic ended the 25-year-old Russian's 20-match winning streak. Medvedev also had won his previous 12 matches against Top 10 opponents.

But going up against Djokovic in Australia is a much different challenge.

By the second set, as things slipped away, Medvedev bounced his white racket off the blue court, then absolutely destroyed it with a full-on spike. By the third, he kept looking up at his coach with palms up as if to ask, "What can I possibly do here?" It is a familiar sentiment in this stadium, on this court, at this tournament. Federer, Nadal, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Dominic Thiem - all Grand Slam champions, all defeated by Djokovic in semifinals or finals in Melbourne.

So place the nine triumphs in Australia alongside five at Wimbledon, three at the U.S. Open and one at the French Open for Djokovic.

The math looks good for Djokovic. He is about a year younger than Nadal and 6 1/2 younger than Federer, who turns 40 in August. Federer hasn't competed in more than a year after having two knee operations but is expected to turn to the tour next month.

On a cool, cloudy evening, an event delayed three weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic concluded with an announced attendance of 7,426 at Rod Laver Arena. Spectators were barred entirely for five days earlier in the tournament because of a local COVID-19 lockdown, but they eventually were let back in at 50% capacity.

When it ended, after fewer than two hours, Djokovic dropped to his back on the court, limbs splayed. He has said he feels at home at the place, and he isn't ready to relinquish ownership.

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