Russia’s Daniil Medvedev lived up to Novak Djokovic’s praise as the “man to beat” at the Australian Open when he charged into his first Melbourne Park final with an impressive 6-4 6-2 7-5 win over Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday.
The rangy Medvedev wrapped the Greek fifth seed in a blanket of pressure at a floodlit Rod Laver Arena, capturing his 20th successive victory and 12th straight over top 10 opponents to earn a shot at ending Djokovic’s dynasty in Sunday’s decider.
Fourth seed Medvedev served like a machine until broken in the third set, which revived the Greek fans in the terraces as Tsitsipas roared to a 5-4 lead.
But the Russian silenced a hostile crowd with the decisive break in the 11th game, then smacked a forehand into the corner on his first match point to seal it.
“I’m happy to manage to keep my nerves because still I didn’t make so many bad shots,” Medvedev said on court of his anxious third set.
“I just tried to hit aces and winners or put the ball in the court. That’s the only way to do (it). That’s how I stayed in the match.”
World number one Djokovic, who beat Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev to reach the final, will be a formidable opponent for Medvedev in his second Grand Slam showpiece match.
Serbian Djokovic is bidding for a record-extending ninth Australian Open title and has never lost a final in Melbourne.
For Tsitsipas, the defeat was not as bitter as his 2019 semi-final demolition by Rafa Nadal.
Yet he paid the price for another slow start, with Medvedev doing what Nadal could not in his five-set quarter-final loss to Tsitsipas this week — slamming the door on the Greek’s revival.
Tsitsipas has now lost three Grand Slam semis, including a five-set loss to Djokovic at last year’s French Open.
After his taxing win over Nadal, the Greek said he felt beaten after two sets against Medvedev, and was not sure winning the third would have helped.
“Let me tell you that he’s a player who has unlocked pretty much everything in the game,” the 22-year-old said of Medvedev.
“It’s like he’s reading the game really well.”
After a cagey start on a muggy evening at Rod Laver Arena, Medvedev barged through Tsitsipas’s defences to break in the fifth game.
Tsitsipas battled to stay in touch and saved three set points before the Russian thumped an ace down the ‘T’ to seal it.
With arms sprawling, Medvedev soaked up all Tsitsipas could throw at him and, after a few rope-a-dope rallies, fired a sizzling forehand winner down the line to break the Greek to lead 2-1 in the second set.
Tsitsipas retired to his chair fuming and slammed a bottle of water onto the court, triggering a squadron of towel-toting ballkids to mop up.
Medvedev marched on, raising three break points at 4-2, and with a touch of arrogance rocketed a return down the line to convert.
The Russian was soon strolling back to his chair two sets up after an ace on set point.
Tsitsipas’s struggles became uncomfortable viewing for some in the crowd and a few jeers rang out when he was broken in the opening game of the third.
Medvedev was cruising to the finish line until, inexplicably, his serve wavered.
He double-faulted to gift break points and dropped serve with a wild forehand, jolting the crowd into life.
A rejuvenated Tsitsipas surged back as Medvedev’s baseline rockets misfired.
While the Russian’s serve had kept Tsitsipas at bay, it was his returning that proved decisive when he broke the Greek at 5-5.
After sending a blazing backhand passing shot down the line, Medvedev waved his arms at the crowd, playing the villain in an echo of his run to the 2019 U.S. Open final.
He closed out the match with a 208 km/hr second serve that Tsitsipas could only chop short, allowing Medvedev to jog forward and fire the winning forehand.
Djokovic, the real “man to beat” at Melbourne Park, awaits.
Djokovic will bid for a record-extending ninth Australian Open title and 18th Grand Slam crown in total to draw closer to Roger Federer’s and Rafa Nadal’s all-time record of 20.
Yet Medvedev has now won 20 successive matches and 12 against top-10 opponents, including beating Djokovic on the way to winning the ATP Finals.
“First of all, I like that I don’t have a lot of pressure because he never lost in eight times he was here in the finals,” Medvedev said.
“It’s he who has all the pressure, you know, getting to Roger, Rafa and the Grand Slams (record).
“So I just hope that I’m going to get out there, show my best tennis.
“As we see, I can win (against) some big names if I play good. That’s the main part. (Djokovic) has, for sure, more experience but more things to lose as well.”
Before Medvedev’s semi-final, Djokovic told Eurosport “the new generation” of players had a lot of work to do and he would not “hand it over” to them.
Medvedev responded: “When Novak says he’s not going to hand anything to somebody, I believe him.
“So I know that to beat him you need to just show your best tennis.”
Djokovic also praised Medvedev as the “man to beat” in Melbourne and for two brilliant sets, the Russian lived up to the billing.
The 25-year-old Muscovite famously riled the crowd at the 2019 U.S. Open before winning them over in a brave five-set loss to Nadal in the final.
However, he admitted he was thrown by the baying crowd on Friday after playing in empty stadiums for matches during the five-day lockdown in Melbourne.
“I got a little bit tight, not because of the score at all but more because of the crowd… When you’re used to playing with a crowd, it’s one thing,” said Medvedev.
“Here it did get into my head. I’m happy that I managed to change my focus and change the momentum at the end of the third set.”
Barty takes Adelaide wild card to defend title
World number one Ash Barty, who exited the Australian Open with a quarter-final defeat, has taken a wild card to defend her title at the WTA 500 event in Adelaide next week, organisers said on Friday.
The 24-year-old Australian will be the top seed at the $535,530 event, scheduled to be held from Feb. 22-27, at the Memorial Drive Tennis Centre in South Australia.
“I am looking forward to coming back to Adelaide and having the opportunity to defend my title,” Barty said in a statement.
“I feel grateful to get another week playing in front of Australian fans.”
Barty won the Yarra Valley Classic warmuup event for the Australian Open at the beginning of February on her return to competitive tennis after a gap of 11 months after opting to stay home due to the COVID-19 pandemic for most of 2020.
The 2019 French Open champion will be joined in Adelaide by other Grand Slam winners like last year’s Roland Garros winner Iga Swiatek and former U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu.
Barty, who lost to Czech Karolina Muchova on Tuesday at Melbourne Park during the year’s first Grand Slam, is then expected to head to the Middle East next month to play WTA events in Doha and Dubai.
Mertens, Sabalenka clinch Australian Open women’s doubles title
Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka beat Czech pair Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova 6-2 6-3 to win the Australian Open women’s doubles title on Friday for their second Grand Slam trophy together.
Seeded second at Melbourne Park, the pair won their maiden major at the 2019 U.S. Open and the victory at the Rod Laver Arena was their fifth title overall.
However, they will not be teaming up at Grand Slam events for the rest of 2021 as Sabalenka wants to focus on singles.
“I’m just trying to put my whole focus on singles,” Sabalenka told reporters, adding that the pair will be playing WTA events in Dubai and Miami next.
“I know that doubles, it’s not that hard, you’re not moving that much than on singles.
“It still takes a lot of energy. I just want to save it for singles,” added Sabalenka, who is ranked No.7 in the world in singles.
Belgian Mertens, ranked 16th in singles, and Sabalenka of Belarus exited the Australian Open women’s singles draw in the fourth round.
In Friday’s doubles final, the pair wasted three championship points before Sabalenka set up a fourth with an ace and they wrapped up the match when Siniakova sent a backhand wide.
They celebrated with their signature leap together while holding the trophy.
“We had a tough draw actually in doubles, so we’re really happy that we pulled through,” said Mertens. “Some days … like today, we just kept on fighting.”
Osaka to meet Brady in final as Williams exits in tears
Naomi Osaka ended Serena Williams’ bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title with an imperious 6-3 6-4 win on Thursday, a victory that booked her spot in her second Australian Open final and left the American great in tears.
In a rematch of their tumultuous 2018 U.S. Open decider, Osaka underlined her status as the new queen of women’s tennis and soaked up the cheers from the Rod Laver Arena crowd as fans returned to the Grand Slam after a five-day lockdown.
“It’s just always an honour to play her and I just didn’t want to go out really dud. I just wanted to try my best,” Osaka said after her 75-minute match on a steamy afternoon.
“I was a little kid watching her play and just to be on the court playing against her is a dream.”
Osaka, the 2019 champion, will meet Jennifer Brady, who ensured there would be at least one American in the final after battling to a 6-4 3-6 6-4 win over Karolina Muchova in the other semi on Thursday.
It will be a rematch of last year’s U.S. Open semi-final, where Osaka edged Brady in three sets on the way to her third Grand Slam triumph.
Williams, however, exited in tears after an error-strewn match and with a question mark over her future.
The 39-year-old, who returned to the tour in 2018 after taking time away from the game to give birth to daughter Alexis Olympia, cut her post-match news conference short when she broke down after being asked whether it was a bad day at the office.
“I had so many opportunities, … it was just … I made too many mistakes there and easy mistakes,” said the American. “Not like …. I was on the run or anything. They were just easy, easy mistakes.
“I don’t know. I’m done,” she added before getting up to leave the room.
HAND ON HEART
Williams’ record bid ended with another near-miss, having reached the finals of four Grand Slams since her last major crown at the Australian Open in 2017.
She paused while exiting centre court as the crowd gave her a standing ovation. She put her hand on her heart, smiled and waved.
Williams was asked whether it was a final farewell to Melbourne Park, where she holds a record seven titles in the professional era.
“I don’t know, if I ever say farewell I wouldn’t tell anyone, so….” she responded.
Williams and Osaka’s last Grand Slam clash was full of drama with the American losing her temper at the chair umpire on the way to defeat in the 2018 final at Flushing Meadows and fans jeering during the trophy ceremony.
Thursday’s semi-final was uneventful by comparison, though Osaka put on a tremendous show after dropping serve in the opening game.
Williams took a 2-0 lead but the Japanese third seed won five straight games before closing out the set with a blazing forehand winner.
Williams began yelling at herself between points, trying to fire herself up, but Osaka was all cold-blooded assassin as she broke the American in the first game of the second set.
Osaka finally wavered with three double-faults to allow Williams to break back to 4-4 but Williams repaid the favour with a double-fault that produced three break points.
Osaka converted the first of them, swooping in to stroke an angled backhand winner. She then served out the match to love, with an overwhelmed Williams bowing out with a netted backhand.
Williams had come to Melbourne Park seeking a 24th Grand Slam title but it was her 24th unforced error that ended her campaign.
Brady kept the U.S. flag flying, though, as she steadied in the late match to book her first Grand Slam final.
After needing five match points to break Muchova’s resistance, Brady gets to continue a wild Australian adventure that began with 14 days in hard quarantine in the leadup.