MELBOURNE, Australia — The smile on Novak Djokovic’s face after smashing an overhead backhand volley previous Daniil Medvedev to safe a document ninth Australian Open title on Sunday wasn’t one in all pure pleasure and even contentment. It was aid.
Because the “Nole, Nole, Nole” chant echoed round Rod Laver Area, Djokovic dropped his racket and fell to the courtroom, soaking in his unprecedented achievement at Melbourne Park. The world No. 1 crushed Medvedev — a person who entered Sunday’s last using a 20-match profitable streak — 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, in underneath two hours, clinching his 18th main title to shut inside two Slam triumphs of his best rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
However Djokovic’s win over the Russian did rather more than tighten the race for probably the most males’s main titles; it additionally put a full cease on a wretched 12 months for Djokovic, on and off the courtroom.
After profitable the Australian Open final February, giving him main trophy No. 17, it appeared Djokovic was on his option to breaking maybe probably the most mentioned document in modern-day sports activities.
“At this stage of my profession, Grand Slams are those I worth most,” Djokovic declared after his triumph in Melbourne final 12 months. “There are a whole lot of stats that I’m clearly pleased with, [but] Grand Slams are why I am nonetheless competing.”
Djokovic hoped final 12 months’s victory Down Underneath would “set the tone for the remainder of the 12 months,” however issues did not unfold as he hoped. His previous 12 months has been a combination of unhealthy luck and questionable selections that quickly derailed his pursuit of the best tennis legacy of all.
This robust stretch started shortly after final 12 months’s Australian Open celebrations. The world was quickly grappling with COVID-19, which was spreading quickly. Sports activities got here to a halt.
The French Open, initially slated for Could, was postponed till October, after the US Open, whereas Wimbledon was canceled. Abruptly, there have been simply two Slams for the in-form Djokovic to contest in 2020: Roland Garros, the place Nadal has reigned supreme over his profession, and the US Open. As well as, nearly each ATP occasion scheduled between March and August was canceled.
With tennis in a five-month hiatus, Djokovic proposed the thought of an exhibition-style match in his house area of the Balkans between June and July. The ATP greenlit the thought, dubbing it the Adria Tour.
“Not like many different gamers, I used to be in a position to practice nearly daily as a result of we resided in a home with a tennis courtroom,” Djokovic mentioned at his house in Serbia when the tour was introduced. “I shunned posting clips on social networks as a result of I did not wish to infuriate different gamers.”
Regardless, it did not take lengthy for the occasion to return underneath heavy criticism. Regardless of the worldwide pandemic, social distancing protocols have been missing on the Adria Tour venues, with hundreds of followers seen with out face masks. Even gamers have been interacting with one another, ignoring well being recommendation to keep away from all bodily contact.
In the course of the tour, a video circulated displaying Djokovic and a number of different tennis stars partying shirtless on the Lafayette Delicacies Cabaret Membership in Belgrade. A number of days later, Djokovic, on the time the president of the ATP Participant Council, introduced he and spouse Jelena had contracted COVID-19. The rest of the Adria Tour was promptly canceled.
“Boneheaded choice to go forward with this ‘exhibition,'” Australian rival Nick Kyrgios tweeted on the time. “However that is what occurs if you disregard all protocols. Sadly, when [Djokovic] was supposed to point out some management and humility, he went lacking.”
One former coach of Grand Slam champions, who requested to not be recognized, instructed ESPN, “The large query in my thoughts is: Was this ignorance or conceitedness on the a part of Djokovic?”
A couple of months later, Djokovic arrived in New York because the overwhelming favourite to win his fourth US Open. With Federer and Nadal each absent, Djokovic was one in all simply three Grand Slam champions in all the males’s draw, together with Andy Murray and Marin Cilic. It was Djokovic’s match to lose and bookmakers agreed, putting in him as an odds-on favourite for the title.
However as a substitute of a comparatively stress-free fortnight at Flushing Meadows, Djokovic shortly grew to become embroiled in drama and controversy.
Earlier than a ball was even struck, the Serbian got here underneath hearth for suggesting he might not take part within the match, given COVID-19 protocols would restrict his on-court entourage to only one member.
“Nobody has been in a position to play sanctioned occasions or generate profits since February and right here we’ve got the highest participant on this planet saying solely with the ability to convey one particular person might be too tough,” American Danielle Collins mentioned. “It is simple to show down the US Open when somebody’s made practically $150 million all through their profession.”
Djokovic ended up enjoying, although he mentioned he was battling persistent neck stiffness within the lead-up to the occasion. It did not seem to hamper him too considerably till he met Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta within the fourth spherical, which turned out to be probably the most notorious tennis match of 2020.
After having his serve damaged by Carreno Busta within the eleventh sport of the opening set and falling behind 5-6, a pissed off Djokovic took a spare ball out of his pocket and struck it firmly towards the again of the courtroom, the place it hit a linesperson within the throat. It wasn’t intentional, as an apologetic Djokovic instantly raised his arm and rushed over to help, but it surely left match referee Soeren Friemel with little selection however to disqualify the No. 1 seed.
“Based mostly on the details that the ball was hit angrily, recklessly; that it went straight on the line umpire’s throat, the choice was made that Novak needed to be defaulted,” Friemel defined.
Djokovic was fined the $250,000 prize cash he had received for reaching the final 16 and was stripped of his rating factors earned on the match. However little question the larger blow for him was that he would not be including to his Grand Slam tally.
A couple of weeks later, Djokovic reached the French Open last in Paris, the place he was comprehensively overwhelmed 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 by clay-court grasp Nadal. Abruptly, Federer and Nadal have been tied at 20 Slams, whereas Djokovic remained caught at 17.
The 2021 Australian Open provided Djokovic an opportunity to hit the reset button — a return to the courtroom on which he had received a document eight titles.
The considered a ninth title appeared practically inconceivable simply 9 days in the past, when Djokovic appeared to noticeably injure himself after slipping on the white “MELBOURNE” lettering behind the Rod Laver Area baseline in his third-round match towards American Taylor Fritz. Djokovic’s well being grew to become the largest speaking level of the match.
However not even an stomach muscle tear might cease him from creating extra historical past in Australia.
“He wanted this victory so badly,” Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic, mentioned. “He was going by means of so much particularly after final 12 months, the US Open and a reasonably poor last at Roland Garros.”
Had Djokovic misplaced in Melbourne, he would have remained three majors behind Federer and Nadal, with the Spaniard’s favored French Open forward in June. To easily tie the document, Djokovic would wish to have carried out what no man has managed earlier than: win a minimum of three majors after his thirty fourth birthday, which is able to arrive in Could.
However his Australian Open win now places him nearer than ever. Djokovic is the youngest of the trio, and this ninth Australian Open title may very well be the catalyst for him occurring to realize the record-breaking feat.
It exhibits that, for Djokovic, there’s actually no place like Melbourne — particularly after a 12 months of setbacks. This match seems to be simply what he wanted.
“I want to thank Rod Laver Area. I like you annually increasingly more,” Djokovic mentioned Sunday. “The extra I win, the higher I really feel coming again annually. The love affair retains going.”