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Novak Djokovic wins 9th Australian Open, closes on Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal

Novak Djokovic Australian Open

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic holds the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup trophy after beating Russia’s Daniil Medvedev to win their men’s singles final match on day fourteen of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 21, 2021. (Photo by Patrick HAMILTON / AFP) / -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE -- (Photo by PATRICK HAMILTON/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Novak Djokovic won a record-extending ninth Australian Open, sweeping Daniil Medvedev to move within two Grand Slam singles titles of the male record shared by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Top-ranked Djokovic routed the fourth-seeded Russian 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 for an 18th major title. Half of them have come in Melbourne.

“I love you more and more each year,” Djokovic said inside Rod Laver Arena after the quickest of his 28 major finals -- 1 hour, 53 minutes. “The love affair keeps growing.”

Djokovic is 33 years, 8 months old. Nadal won his 18th of 20 at age 33. Federer won his 18th at 35 years, 5 months. The chase is on going back to Nadal’s domain -- the French Open in late May.

“Whether I think about winning more Slams and breaking records, of course. Of course, I do,” Djokovic said. “Most of my attention and my energy from this day forward, until I retire from tennis, is going to be directed in majors, trying to win more major trophies.”

Djokovic, who first won the Australian Open at age 20 in 2008, improved to 18-0 in semifinals and finals in Melbourne.

Over the last two weeks, he overcame what he called an oblique muscle tear to outlast American Taylor Fritz in five sets in the third round. Djokovic said in his post-match on-court interview that night -- after midnight -- that he may have to withdraw from the tournament.

“It has been definitely emotionally the most challenging Grand Slams that I ever had,” he said Sunday.

The Serbian endured, taking out Milos Raonic and Alexander Zverev in four sets. Then he swept 114th-ranked Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev in the semifinals to reach a meeting with a player he called “the man to beat.” Djokovic’s five dropped sets were his highest ever going into a major final.

Medvedev entered the final on a 20-match win streak dating to October, including 12 wins over top-10 foes, most notably Djokovic at the ATP Finals in November.

“It’s [Djokovic] who has all the pressure,” Medvedev said before the final, “getting to Roger and Rafa in the Grand Slams.”

But it was Medvedev who played with the weight on his wiry shoulders. He is the highest-ranked man without a major title, having lost a 2019 U.S. Open final epic to Nadal that lasted five sets and nearly five hours.

Many believed after that match in New York that Medvedev, now 25, was ticketed for major success. That may still come, but Djokovic held him off a little bit longer.

“U.S. Open hurt more because I had more chances finally to win it than I had today,” said Medvedev, who called Djokovic, Nadal and Federer “cyborgs.” “For me it felt like 30 minutes [match time against Djokovic], and I was there holding the finalist trophy.”

Djokovic, after winning the 2020 Australian Open for his 17th Slam, had hoped last year to catch Federer and Nadal.

But then Wimbledon, which he’s won five times and on the last two occasions, was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He was the favorite at the U.S. Open -- with Nadal and Federer absent -- but was defaulted for striking a ball in anger that inadvertently hit a lineswoman in the throat.

Then at rescheduled Roland Garros in October, he won seven total games off Nadal in a one-way final.

Now, Djokovic is closer to the record than ever. If he can topple Nadal in Paris, it’s likely he will catch Federer and Nadal by the end of this year.

If Nadal wins a 14th French Open in June, the earliest Djokovic can possibly tie the record would be next January.

That’s when the King of Melbourne Park -- as Tennis Australia chair Jayne Hrdlicka called him during Sunday’s trophy ceremony -- can move one shy of Margaret Court‘s overall record for Australian Open titles. Court won 11 when including pre-Open Era conquests when it was known as the Australian Championships.

“The longer the time passes, the more difficult it’s going to become for me to get my hands on the major trophy because you have, of course, new young players coming up,” Djokovic said, before turning attention back to his contemporaries. “Roger and Rafa inspire me. That’s something that I’ve said before. I’ll say it again, I think as long as they go, I’ll go.”

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