Sports

Daniil Medvedev, ‘Next Gen’ still playing catch-up with Djokovic and Big Three

MELBOURNE, Australia — Ahead of this 12 months’s Australian Open remaining, there was a distinctly totally different buzz round Melbourne Park. There was a way that, simply possibly, this is able to be the 12 months the King of Rod Laver Arena might be dethroned by a member of the “next generation.”

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic got here Melbourne as the favourite based mostly purely on his document eight Australian Open titles and two-time defending champion, however the controversy that hounded him all through 2020 continued with the criticism of his pre-tournament comments about COVID-19 quarantines that some regionally characterised as tone-deaf. A subsequent abdominal injury throughout a third-round match towards Taylor Fritz additionally appeared to open the door that a lot additional for a brand new champion.

One of these youthful stars set to interrupt by way of was No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev. The 2019 US Open finalist was using a 20-match successful streak at Tour stage, had dropped simply two units all through the Australian Open and spent 4 fewer hours on courtroom all through in comparison with Djokovic.

But Medvedev’s straight-sets loss Sunday towards Djokovic in simply an hour and 53 minutes was emblematic of the following technology’s continued struggles towards Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, particularly in Grand Slam finals.

As ESPN analyst Chris Fowler aptly put it in the course of the match in an ode to Omar Little from “The Wire” — “There is a saying that, if you come for the king, you best not miss.”

Medvedev got here for the king, however got here up brief. Well brief.

Djokovic cruised to a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 win and his 18th main title, the shortest Slam remaining he has performed and the shortest Australian Open males’s remaining since Andre Agassi’s 2003 rout of Rainer Schuettler in a single hour and 16 minutes.

It’s nearly onerous to grasp simply how dominant the Big Three have been. Since Federer’s first Slam win at Wimbledon in 2003, solely eight males not named Federer, Djokovic or Nadal have lifted a trophy over 69 Grand Slams. Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka have gained three apiece, and six different males have one Slam every since Federer’s breakthrough.

The notion of a “top 10” or “top 20′ in men’s tennis probably doesn’t reflect how far ahead Djokovic, Nadal and a fit Federer are. You could be the fifth best player in the world, like Dominic Thiem or Medvedev and still be trailing the best by some distance. By Medvedev’s current age (25 years old), Djokovic had already won six Slam titles. Physically, mentally, and certainly at Grand Slam level, the next generation is still a level below.

Medvedev described the Big Three as “cyborgs of tennis.”

“I do not assume anybody can argue with [Djokovic, Nadal and Federer being] the three greatest names in tennis historical past,” Medvedev said. “I’m speaking solely about outcomes. … What they did in tennis is unbelievable. I’m 25 now. To win 9 Australian Opens, I have to win yearly till I’m 34. I imagine in myself, however I do not assume I’m in a position to do it.”

You only have to look at Medvedev’s service games during Sunday’s final to see how Djokovic’s step up in intensity affected the Russian’s play. His percentage of first-serve points won (69 percent) and second-serve points won (32 percent) were comfortably his worst in any match throughout the tournament, during which averaged 81 percent and 60 percent in his previous six matches. Winning just 32 percent of points on his second serve is his worst return at any major match in his career so far.

While Medvedev’s numbers fell off a cliff, Djokovic remained as consistent as ever. He won 71 percent of points on his first serve in both his quarterfinal and semifinal wins, and 73 percent against Medvedev. On his second serve, he averaged 60 in his prior two wins, and 63 percent in the final.

“[The younger players] have positively the standard to succeed in the heights of main event trophies. They’ve confirmed that,” Djokovic said. “I simply assume Roger, Rafa and myself have managed to all the time play our greatest tennis at slams. We have the expertise of figuring out what to do, how we are able to win matches in best-of-five on totally different surfaces. That’s made it more difficult for guys which are within the subsequent technology, up-and-coming.

“How long is going to take for maybe [Alexander] Zverev or [Stefano] Tsitsipas or Medvedev to do the same? I don’t know. But they seem awfully close. Medvedev was definitely a guy to beat today. … They have all contested in semis and finals of slams, so it’s just a matter of time, but hopefully not so close.”

Tennis has delivered numerous false dawns lately. Names like Grigor Dimitrov (who was unfairly known as “the next Roger Federer” early in his profession), Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic have been touted as future Slam champions. More just lately, it has been Zverev, Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Thiem. Outside of Thiem’s 2020 US Open title, none have delivered on the Slam stage.

As merciless as it could be, it’s worthwhile to beat one of the best to win a Slam, not one of the best accessible. Thiem was the final man standing and rightfully deserved his 2020 US Open crown after beating fellow Next Gen member Zverev; however he would think about himself fortunate that he did not should face Djokovic (defaulted after putting a linesperson with a ball throughout his fourth-round match), Nadal (did not journey because of the COVID-19 dangers) or Federer (knee damage) throughout that run.

Medvedev’s successful streak heading into Sunday’s remaining included wins towards Nadal and Djokovic, however Grand Slam tennis is a special beast, and there are three gamers at present on the Tour who know the right way to win them greater than another males in historical past.

As Djokovic stated throughout his winner’s speech to Medvedev: “You’re not quite there yet,” Djokovic quipped to Medvedev throughout his on-court winner’s speech, however there was an underlying actuality to the joke.

Djokovic later stated the Big Three still “drive each other” regardless of one of the best efforts of the youthful gamers on Tour.

“Roger and Rafa inspire me, and as long as they go, I’ll go. In a way it’s a race [to see] who plays tennis more and who wins more. It’s a competition between us in all areas,” the world No. 1 stated. “But I think that’s the very reason we are who we are. We do drive each other. We motivate each other — we push each other to the limit.”

And this 12 months’s Australian Open confirmed us once more that the following technology could solely break by way of with assistance from time. Federer is 39, Nadal 34, and Djokovic 33. And that is a disgrace. The sport will likely be poorer for his or her exits, each time they arrive, and the usual of tennis could by no means once more attain the unbelievable highs we have witnessed. Djokovic’s ninth Australian Open title additional cements how fortunate followers have been to look at three of sport’s all-time greats placed on a present for them, and the following technology of gamers included.

“When they’re in the zone, and I’m not shy to say it, I feel like they’re just better tennis players,” Medvedev stated. “For sure, when we are also in the zone, we can bring them a big fight, we can win some matches, maybe some big titles, but it’s just that the percentage is on their side. I rank [Federer, Nadal and Djokovic as the] top three toughest opponents in my life.”

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