Tagged in: Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic rolls to 9th Australian Open title, 18th career Grand Slam

Maybe, just maybe, the thinking went, Novak Djokovic would be just a tad more susceptible to trouble this time around at the Australian Open.

After all, he tore an abdominal muscle in the third round and wasn’t sure he could continue to compete. Entering Sunday, Djokovic ceded five sets in the tournament, the most he ever dropped en route to a major final. And to top it all off, he was facing Daniil Medvedev, owner of a 20-match winning streak.

Yeah, right. We’re talking about Djokovic at Melbourne Park, where his supremacy is most certainly intact, now with nine championships in nine finals. Plus, he’s still gaining on Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the Grand Slam standings, now up to 18 overall, two shy of the men’s record those rivals share.

Djokovic used improved serving, along with his usual relentless returning and baseline excellence to grab 11 of 13 games in one stretch and defeat Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 for a third straight Australian Open trophy.

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“Definitely, emotionally, the most challenging Grand Slam that I ever had, with everything that was happening — injury, off-the-court stuff, quarantines,” Djokovic said. “A roller-coaster ride.”

When the match ended after less than two hours, Djokovic went to the sideline, lifted his white shirt and peeled pieces of beige athletic tape from his stomach.

“I was quite worried,” Djokovic said about the injury. “I did not [think] realistically that I could actually play. I didn’t know until two hours before the fourth-round match.”

Dealing with what he called “bearable” pain, Djokovic improved to a combined 18-0 in semifinals and finals on Melbourne’s hard courts.

“Probably, it’s not your last one,” Medvedev said. “I have no words to say.”

Djokovic, a 33-year-old from Serbia, has acquired six of the last 10 majors and will stay at No. 1 in the rankings at least through March 8. That will give him 311 weeks there, breaking another mark held by Federer.

His goals now are squarely on Grand Slams, even more than before.

Put Djokovic’s nine triumphs in Australia alongside five at Wimbledon, three at the US Open and one at the French Open. The math looks good for him: He is about a year younger than Nadal and 6½ younger than Federer.

“I do enjoy the success every single time even more,” Djokovic stated, “because I know that the longer the time passes, the more difficult it’s going to become.” The No. 4-seeded Medvedev was appearing in his second Slam final; he was the runner-up to Nadal at the 2019 US Open.

The 25-year-old from Russia had won 12 in a row versus top-10 opponents, but trying to solve Djokovic in Australia is a unique challenge.

“He’s really good [at] reading an opponent’s game,” Medvedev said, “knowing what you will do next, how to beat you.”

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Novak Djokovic ends Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev’s golden run

Novak Djokovic had a perfect record in Australian Open semifinals, and he was playing almost flawless tennis to protect it.

It didn’t matter that across the net was Aslan Karatsev, a 114th-ranked, 27-year-old Russian who had come through qualifying to make his debut in a Grand Slam tournament after nine failed attempts.

Djokovic made only one unforced error in more than 50 minutes.

It was tight for the first seven games — before Djokovic reeled off eight consecutive points to win the first set — and again when Karatsev went on an all-or-nothing roll late in the second set.

Sensing a shift in support for the underdog — there was a vocal crowd at Rod Laver Arena after a five-day span when fans were barred during a local COVID-19 outbreak — Djokovic moved up a gear and finished off his opponent 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

He’s now 9-0 in semifinals at the season-opening major, and one victory from a ninth Australian title.

“The more I win, the better I feel coming back,” the top-ranked Djokovic said. “The love affair continues.”

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Djokovic, 33, will have a day off Friday when No. 4 Daniil Medvedev and No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is coming off a five-set victory over Rafael Nadal, meet in the other semifinal. Djokovic said he’d have a rest and get the popcorn ready to watch and see who he gets to face in Sunday’s final.

Given his past success in Melbourne, Djokovic should feel confident going into another championship match.

He already owns a record eight Australian titles, and he’s aiming for an 18th major title, which would reduce the gap to Roger Federer and Nadal, who share the men’s record at 20.

Djokovic also is aiming to be only the second man to attain nine or more titles at one of the four Grand Slams. Nadal has 13 at Roland Garros. Djokovic, in Australia, and Federer, with eight at Wimbledon, currently share second place.

“Recovery is the priority right now,” Djokovic said. “I’ve had enough match play, enough practice.

“Right now it’s just gathering all the necessary energy for the most important match of the Australian Open.”

Djokovic has been bothered by an abdominal muscle problem since the third round. He initially stated it was a tear, but has since refused to talk about the details until after the tournament.

After his victory over Karatsev, he said it’s “the best as I’ve felt the entire tournament.” “I felt great. I could swing through the ball. No pain. Best match so far,” Djokovic said. “It came at the right time. I’m thrilled to feel this way.”

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Daniil Medvedev lifts Russia past Italy for ATP Cup title

After celebrating their ATP Cup triumph as teammates for Russia, Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev will go their own ways at the Australian Open next week and might meet at Melbourne Park as rivals in the quarterfinals.

Medvedev improved his winning streak to 14 matches and secured Russia’s 2-0 triumph over Italy in the ATP Cup final on Sunday when he beat Matteo Berrettini 6-4, 6-2 at Rod Laver Arena. Rublev had given his team a commanding start with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Fabio Fognini.

The No. 4-ranked Medvedev has certainly been peaking, winning his last 10 matches versus top-10 players, including a sweep of the top three at the ATP Finals last year and a close victory over Alexander Zverev in the semifinals here.

“It’s a confidence boost,” he said.

The Australian Open starts Monday but Medvedev and Rublev, who has won five titles and 45 singles matches since the start of 2020, get a day off before their first-round matches.

As for having such a run of big matches so close to a major, Medvedev said he wouldn’t know for a couple of weeks whether it was ideal preparation for a major or not.

“Get the momentum going, sometimes it helps you – I did last year (when) I won two tournaments in a row,” he said. “At the same time it’s tiring. Played four tough matches, yesterday especially.”

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The Russians didn’t lose a singles match during the group stage or the playoffs this week, and were the second team to win the ATP Cup after Novak Djokovic led Serbia to the inaugural title last year.

The first edition featured 24 countries and was staged in three Australian cities: Brisbane, Perth and Sydney. Because of restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, including a two-week quarantine for all international arrivals, this year it was cut to 12 teams and played entirely at Melbourne Park. Along with five other tuneup tournaments.

Italy veteran Fognini was in the team that lost to Russia in the group stage last year. In the final, he said it was a bit of a blur.

“We played with the two best shape guys in the circuit at the moment,” Fognini said. “Especially in my case, it’s tough to say, but I don’t have these kind of matches, this kind of speed during the point. At the moment was too much.”

It seems that Rublev and Medvedev hadn’t looked too far ahead in the Australian Open draw, until Russia team captain Evgeny Donskoy raised the topic of their projected quarterfinal match at the post-match news conference.

“I’m just actually more happy for the guys that they’re achieving the level that is going to be out of the limit soon because they’re playing unbelievable tennis,” Donskoy said. “Yeah, just wishing them to play the same like they played today in the main draw of Australian Open. If the level going to be the same, these guys going to see each other in the quarterfinals.”

Medvedev, who is seeded fourth and opens versus Vasek Pospisil, said: “Yeah, it’s going to be great. You cannot change the draw. If it happens, it’s perfect.”

Rublev, who is seeded 7th and opens versus Yannick Hanfmann, said, “I wish.”

“It’s too far to say something about it now. We have to go match by match. Daniil [has a] tough first round. Me, I have as well. We’re not going to meet in second round, so we need to win a couple of matches first.”

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Daniil Medvedev defeats top 3 to win first ATP finals

Nearing defeat, Daniil Medvedev suddenly switched tactics at the ATP Finals and collected the biggest title of his career by defeating US Open champion Dominic Thiem 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4 on Sunday.

The fourth-ranked Medvedev became the first player to beat each of the men who were Nos. 1-3 in the season-ending championship — and only the fourth to do it at any tour event in the past 30 years.

The comeback versus No. 3 Thiem, which lasted more than 2½ hours, added to victories Medvedev produced against No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the round-robin portion of the tournament and No. 2 Rafael Nadal in Saturday’s semifinals on an indoor hard court. Spectators were barred because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Medvedev, 24, went 5-0 in all, quite a turnaround from a year ago, when he went 0-3 at the ATP Finals. The tournament now ends its 12-year run in London, moving to Turin, Italy, next year. Medvedev, of Russia, closed 2020 by going 10-0 in November, including seven wins against members of the Top 10. He had zero victories over Top 10 opponents over the preceding 12 months.

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Thiem’s defense and power from the baseline put him on top early, and strong serving at key moments allowed him to save the first eight break points he faced. But Medvedev, the runner-up to Nadal at the 2019 US Open, finally converted on his sixth break chance of the third set — and ninth of the match — by sneaking forward behind a return, making a forehand volley winner and going up 3-2.

That was enough, because Medvedev never faced a break point the rest of the way; he concluded with 12 aces.

A key shift came in the second-set tiebreaker, thanks to a change in style from Medvedev.

Thiem had grabbed a 2-0 lead before Medvedev stormed back, using an element of surprise by rushing to the net more often than usual — both behind serves and returns — and reeling off the next seven points.

Medvedev continued with that strategy to great effect in the final set, too. It seemed to throw off Thiem, who had won three of the pair’s previous four matches, including in consecutive sets in the semifinals in New York in September en route to his first Grand Slam trophy.

In the second set Sunday, Thiem had break opportunities to take a 4-3 edge, but he badly missed a short shot on one, reacting by putting his hands on his hips, and Medvedev produced an ace on the other.

Thiem stumbled and tumbled to the court in the next game, but appeared to be OK.

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Djokovic avoids upset bug in New York

Bothered by a bad neck that a trainer massaged twice, Novak Djokovic double-faulted seven times and trailed by a break in each set before avoiding the rash of upsets at the Western & Southern Open by taking the last four games for a 7-6 (2), 6-4 victory over Ricardas Berankis on Monday.

The No. 1-ranked Djokovic was playing his first ATP match in six months because of the coronavirus pandemic. He withdrew from the doubles event on Sunday because of his neck.

“I’m trying to deal with it on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s been like that for the past three or four days.”

Djokovic improved to 19-0 in 2020 as he prepares to seek a sixth title in the past eight Grand Slam tournaments when the US Open begins in a week. That major championship’s site in Flushing Meadows is hosting the Ohio-based Western & Southern Open as part of an unusual doubleheader with no spectators.

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Djokovic got by, even though he was wincing and stretching his neck between points.

He wound up lying on his back — with a medical mask and protective glasses on his face — while having his neck manipulated after the first set.

While the tours were shut down, Djokovic tested positive for COVID-19 in June after a series of no-social-distancing exhibition matches that he organized in Serbia and Croatia.

As tennis ramps up — this is the first tournament of the resumption for the men; the women returned earlier this month — there has been a host of surprises, including defending women’s champion Madison Keys’ 6-4, 6-1 departure versus Ons Jabeur in an hour Monday night.

No. 2 seed Dominic Thiem, a three-time major finalist, wasn’t competitive in a 6-2, 6-1 defeat to Filip Krajinovic, and No. 5 Alexander Zverev hit 11 double faults — five in his last two service games — while being defeated by Andy Murray 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.

Like Djokovic, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka emerged with difficult victories, and two-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova, the No. 6 seed, lost Monday. Each of the top two women’s seeds, Karolina Pliskova and Sofia Kenin, were defeated Sunday.

Djokovic next meets American Tennys Sandgren, a 6-7 (4), 6-2, 7-6 (5) winner over No. 15 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, who accumulated 15 double faults. Another American, Reilly Opelka, eliminated No. 9 seed Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 7-6 (4).

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Djokovic: I will break Grand Slam record

Novak Djokovic maintains that he will win the most Grand Slam titles and become the longest-reigning world No. 1 by the time he is ready to retire.

Djokovic’s 17 Grand Slam titles are three shy of Roger Federer and two behind Rafael Nadal. Djokovic’s total number of weeks at No. 1 rests at 282, which trails Federer (310) and Pete Sampras (286).

“I’m always very confident in myself,” Djokovic said during an interview on “In Depth with Graham Bensinger.”

“I believe I can win the most slams and break the record for longest No. 1. Those are definitely my clear goals.” Djokovic, who is ranked No. 1 in the world, was on a roll prior to the sports world being brought to a halt by the coronavirus pandemic. He captured the ATP Cup with Serbia, an eighth Australian Open title and a fifth victory at the Dubai Tennis Championships.

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Djokovic, soon to turn 33, might have to make a decision should it become mandatory for tennis players to be vaccinated against COVID-19, once the treatment is established.

“Personally, I am opposed to vaccination, and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel,” Djokovic said last month while talking to other Serbian athletes in a Facebook live chat.

“But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision. I have my own thoughts about the matter, and whether those thoughts will change at some point, I don’t know.

“Hypothetically, if the season was to resume in July, August or September, though unlikely, I understand that a vaccine will become a requirement straight after we are out of strict quarantine, and there is no vaccine yet.” Medical experts are working overtime to prepare a vaccine for COVID-19, but a ready-for-market vaccination is not expected until 2021.

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Tennis club apologizes for letting Djokovic train

The tennis club where Novak Djokovic broke confinement rules in Spain stated Tuesday it mistakenly let the top-ranked Serb to practice and apologized for the error.

Djokovic released a video of him training on Monday in apparent violation of Spain’s current rules amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The video posted on Instagram showed Djokovic exchanging shots with another man at the club in the coastal city of Marbella, where the Serb has been staying for the past several weeks.

Djokovic filmed the video while hitting shots and wrote he was “so happy to play on clay .. well, just for a bit with my phone in the hands.”

Spain has eased some of the lockdown measures that had been in place since mid-March, allowing professional athletes to return to practice, but most training centers and sports facilities must stay closed until next week.

“We are sorry that our interpretation of the regulation could have been erroneous, and this could have inconvenienced Mr. Djokovic or any other citizen acting in good faith,” the Puente Romano Marbella Tennis Club said in a statement.

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The statement, which was relayed by Djokovic’s management team, said the club got a request from the player to practice and gave him the go-ahead with the “understanding that from May 4 all professional sports players were authorized to train.” The club said it therefore believed he was “permitted to train in our facilities.”

It said it later received a “clarification” from the Spanish tennis federation and “both parties have agreed that training should resume” only next week.

Rafael Nadal stated he also went to train on a court this week, but he did it on private property because the rules weren’t fully clear to him.

Soccer players were among the exceptions who could start training inside sports facilities beginning this week.

Spain has been one of the countries most affected by the pandemic but it started loosening some of its restrictions on movement as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 started to go down recently. The nation went into a lockdown on March 14.

Djokovic recently stated he was against taking a vaccine for the coronavirus if it became mandatory to travel once the pandemic subsides, though he later said he was open to changing his mind.

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