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Novak Djokovic is the OG invincible machine, winning streaks of opponents be damned

Novak Djokovic with the 2021 Australian Open trophy
Novak Djokovic with the 2021 Australian Open trophy
Musab Abid
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Modified 21 Feb 2021
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There wasn't a lot to like in Game of Thrones' eighth season, but a line by Sansa Stark towards the end of the series has stuck in memory. "Uncle, please sit," Sansa says, in response to a particularly outlandish piece of self-aggrandizing by a roundly disliked character.

What would the tennis version of that distinctly meme-worthy line be? If you watched Novak Djokovic's performance against Daniil Medvedev in the final of the 2021 Australian Open on Sunday, you probably had Sansa Stark's voice ringing in your ears all afternoon.

For much of the last fortnight the talk has been about how Medvedev is the modern version of Djokovic, how he can defend as well as the Serb, and even how he can use crowd reactions as fuel to bring out his best. All of that has also been accompanied by some trademark drama on Djokovic's side of the draw, with more people interested in his fitness and mysterious injury than his tennis.

"Daniil Medvedev will show Novak Fakervic his place on Sunday", a fan claimed ahead of the final. But as the first 15 minutes of the match showed, any place-showing was only going to be done by Novak Djokovic on this day.

We've seen Djokovic take his tennis to stratospheric levels at the Australian Open before, of course. In the 2019 final he made Rafael Nadal look like a club player, in 2016 he almost did the same to Roger Federer, and in many other matches he has looked like he could win with his eyes closed.

This year was supposed to be different though. Novak Djokovic looked like a dead man walking in his third-round match against Taylor Fritz, and not much better in his subsequent couple of matches against Milos Raonic and Alexander Zverev.

Irrespective of his flawless history in Melbourne, Novak Djokovic is human - and a 33-year-old one at that. Many expected him to be a little physically compromised towards the end of the tournament, thus opening a window of opportunity for the man who was on a 20-match winning streak.

Daniil Medvedev
Daniil Medvedev's 20-match winning streak was brought to an abrupt halt by Novak Djokovic

And yet in the first three games of his match against Daniil Medvedev, Novak Djokovic played like it was 2015. Serving like a bot, returning like a madman and covering the court like a gazelle, Djokovic handcuffed the Russian in a way that nobody has been able to do over the last four months.

Full credit to Daniil Medvedev for not going away in the first set, despite Novak Djokovic's scary statement of intent. But it was hard to imagine the match having any other result when the Serb was in that kind of mood, especially on the return.

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Medvedev couldn't get nearly as many free points on his serve as he was getting all tournament, and that instantly put him at a huge disadvantage. If you take away the Russian's bailout serve, is he really anything more than a very poor man's Baby Djokovic?

A lot has been said about the Serb's return of serve over the years. But there are a few shots in tennis - like Rafael Nadal's down-the-line forehand, for instance - that just never get old.

The World No. 1's return looked truly jaw-dropping on Sunday, just like it always has. No matter how many times it happens, the sight of Novak Djokovic grabbing a mammoth serve by the scruff of its neck and redirecting it to within an inch of the baseline still boggles the mind.

The return was the weapon that helped Djokovic break Medvedev decisively for the first set, and it was also the dagger that broke the Russian's resolve. Sure, the Serb was nearly perfect from the baseline too, hitting his backhand with unreal depth and striking his forehand flat and furious. But it was Medvedev's inability to dominate with his serve that truly shattered his spirit.

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Novak Djokovic during the 2021 Australian Open final
Novak Djokovic during the 2021 Australian Open final

Once the 25-year-old realized he would have to work his ass off for every single point, he didn't seem interested in the fight anymore.

That reminds me of one of Novak Djokovic's comments from a couple of days ago, in response to a question about the Next Gen's impending takeover of men's tennis. "Certainly they will be the leaders of the future of tennis, without a doubt, but Iā€™m not going to stand here and hand it over to them. Iā€™m going to make them work their ass off for it," the Serb had said after his semifinal win over Aslan Karatsev.

Has anyone walked the talk better than Novak Djokovic?

The man has now won 18 Grand Slam titles, and is looking good for about half a dozen more. Roland Garros will likely remain out of reach for the rest of his career, but that still leaves three Majors every year that he is the favorite for until proven otherwise.

You almost want to feel bad for the Next Gen, but then you look at displays like the one Djokovic produced today, and you wonder how that can deserve anything but the highest reward.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, and to a lesser extent Roger Federer, have pushed the boundaries of tennis excellence further than anyone would've thought was possible. They keep showing us different ways in which they are above ordinary humans, and they keep making us question whether they might actually be immortal.

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Will they ever stop? You almost want to say no, given how a less-than-fully-fit man in his 30s made the competition look so thoroughly incompetent this fortnight. And the truly scary part is that Novak Djokovic is even getting better in some ways.

While his return of serve was the difference-maker on Sunday, it was the serve that was his weapon on choice in the matches that came before. Novak Djokovic has become almost as good at saving break points with big first serves as the likes of John Isner and Ivo Karlovic - something that Alexander Zverev and Aslan Karatsev found out the hard way.

Novak Djokovic, the King of Melbourne
Novak Djokovic, the King of Melbourne

So now Novak Djokovic returns better than everybody, hits his groundstrokes (especially the backhand) better than everybody, moves better than everybody, and also serves better than just about everybody. How can such a player be defeated?

And to think that some of us were looking at Medvedev as a modern version of Djokovic. In one fell swoop, the Serb has shot down all such thoughts with a ruthlessness bordering on the superhuman. He has proven in no uncertain terms that he's the OG machine-that-can't-be-beaten, while the rest are merely pretenders.

It's almost like with each shot he hit on Sunday, Novak Djokovic was saying, "Uncle, please sit" to all those who thought his opponent had a chance. We might as well be sitting for the next couple of years at this rate.

Published 21 Feb 2021, 19:47 IST
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