Novak Djokovic was his usual confident self when he headed to the Rod Laver Arena for the Australian Open singles final last Sunday. It didn’t matter that he went through a more rigorous test than he envisioned through the last fortnight; his third-round match against gritty Taylor Fritz was particularly testy, lasting all of five sets and forcing him to compete with a torn abdominal oblique muscle from then on. And never mind that he faced red-hot Daniil Medvedev, whose 20-match win streak had a number of quarters wondering if the new batch of talents would finally break through in a major championship. As far as he was concerned, Melbourne Park was his home, and it remained as welcoming as it had been in 2019 and 2020, and in the six other times he went home with the Norman Brooks Challenge Cup.
If there’s anything the rest of the cool night proved, it’s that Djokovic had ample reason for his self-assurance. He promptly made short work of Medvedev; in fact, so dominant was he that he needed less than two hours to secure the title. And considering the finalists’ shared predilection to construct points as opposed to quickly go for high-risk killer strikes, the veritable sprint serves as a reflection of his utter sharpness. In the aftermath, his vanquished foe could only acknowledge his greatness on the cushion acrylic hard courts of the continent’s pride. Not for nothing is he now a perfect nine of nine with the hardware on the line.
Certainly, a lot could have gone wrong en route. Apart from the sport’s fickle nature, Djokovic needed to overcome concerns unique to the pandemic; from restrictive safety protocols to legitimate scheduling concerns, he faced obstacles that compelled him to keep adjusting. There was likewise the relative toughness of his bracket in the face of his injury. Then again, he is who he is — tennis royalty in a stratosphere shared only with all-time greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. And, Down Under, he is all but invincible. On a surface where he is able to provide extra spring to his groundstrokes and keep balls low, Medvedev had no chance.
Djokovic began 2020 with promise, his Australian Open triumph seemingly laying the groundwork for a stellar season. Instead, he won no more major crowns; Wimbledon was canceled, the United States Open a disappointment following his freak banishment, and the French Open a lost cause vis-a-vis Nadal’s utter superiority on red clay. This time around, he figures to use his latest achievement as springboard for a better — make that much better — campaign. This time next month, he will have spent more weeks at Number zone in world rankings than any other player in the annals of the sport. And given his ambition, it’s fair to argue that, this time next year, he aims to be without peer in terms of the number of Grand Slam titles on his résumé.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.