The King of Rod Laver Arena

coaching philosophy technical analysis Feb 24, 2021

By Marc Sophoulis with Shane Liyanage

The night started with 17-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic as the raging favorite to claim his 9th Australian Open against the man who was on a 20-match winning streak Daniil Medvedev.

This match up promised to be an epic battle with the data almost identical for the entire Australian Open between the two players.

Going into the match both men had served extremely well, winning a high percentage of first serve and second serve points. Medvedev nearly had 1 in 2 first serves of his being unreturned.

It was a similar story on the return with both players doing well getting returns in play and winning a high percentage of first and second serve return points. Daniil Medvedev was exceptional at breaking 38% of time his opponents served.

Djokovic got the perfect start, 3-0 in the first 10 minutes. Settling into the match with a higher aggressive game style than what he would normally execute. He set the tone with his aggression, particularly to the Medvedev forehand. Opening the court by moving him to the ad side and exposing the weaker forehand on the move. His slice serve to the forehand was proving hard for Medvedev to return.

Medvedev was not getting the free points on serve that he had been getting in his previous rounds:

Although, Medvedev showed the reason he has won 20 straight matches, 11 against the words top 10, and fought back to level at 5-5 in the first set before Djokovic closed it out with another break at 6-5. Djokovic sniffed out the right moment to take the initiative and dictate in the 12th game. Taking the ball early, being aggressive and making the Medvedev serve look slow, Djokovic closed it out with a trademark backhand down the line passing shot at 0-30 to give him 3 chances to break and win the set.

The 2nd set proved to follow the path of the first. Djokovic jumped to a 4-1 lead very quickly. His trademark return of serve, consistency off the back of the court and his ability to give away no free points proved too much for Medvedev who’s serve, which has been his strength all tournament, failed to make its Mark against the words best returner. Not normally his best asset, Djokovic’s serve was hard to read and return against the man who has won 38% of return games in this year’s Australian Open.

The second set had it all including a fan in the crowd who was ejected for yelling constantly during a point, both players yelling at their coaches’ box, a Medvedev smashed racquet and a Djokovic serving clinic. Djokovic broke serve to win the set 6-2.

The start of the 3rd set looked like Medvedev was going to change his fortunes, having 2 break points on the Djokovic serve in the first game. Squandering both opportunities and losing his game and his mind set. Arguing with the coaches box, rushing during and after points and poor decisions gave Djokovic the break for a 3-0 lead.

As the set wore on Medvedev continue to ooze frustration and struggled to dig himself out of the rut while his opponent became increasingly more confident with every minute. Defensively Djokovic didn’t break, reading the Medvedev game with ease and making him play every ball waiting for the error to come. No matter how good Medvedev has been throughout the whole tournament, it’s the mindset on the big stage that counts. Handling pressure and staying consistent in the big moments is what it takes to win an elusive Grand Slam. Something Djokovic knows all too well.

Holding serve in a tight 7th game, Djokovic pointed to his head, stated it’s a mental game to his coach’s box. Coming out from the change of ends Djokovic immediately put the pressure on the Medvedev serve taking it to 0-30 closing the match with a round arm smash from behind his head. Djokovic dominated the third set and the match from start to finish. Deservingly a 9 time winner in rod laver arena, his new 2nd home.

The question mark remains over Medvedev. Does he have the GRIT to win a grand slam against the big 3/4. Win things went against him he mentally capitulated. Over 3 sets Medvedev has proven that he is good enough. But to win a Slam he needs to play at the heights level for 4 hours+.

The dominance at the Australian Open of Novak Djokovic has been remarkable. He now moves to 18 Grand Slam wins and 1 behind Nadal and Federer at 20. Will he surpass the greats? That remains to be seen.

Key Stats

First Serve Pattern used:

Novak came into the match winning 77% of first serves, in the final he won 73% of first serves, which was a great achievement against someone with Medvedev’s returning calibre. He did this by mixing the directions well in general play and under pressure.

Medvedev was winning 81% of first serves coming into the final, but only won 70% of first serves in the final.


Figure 1: From Australian Open Website – Novak kept Medvedev guessing by using a good mix of T and Wide serves on the first serve (Top), whilst Medvedev was too predictable (Bottom) particularly on the Ad court


Breaking down the Medvedev forehand:

Coming into the final the strategy for both players was to get into a good position in the rally by breaking down the opponents forehand. Novak was able to do this much better.

Incredibly Novak was rock solid on his forehand side too, committing only 3 unforced errors for the match.

Medvedev was rushing himself

Medvedev had built his 20-match winning streak on making matches physical and winning the long rally battle. The first set averaged 5.85 shots in a rally which was consistent with the approach Medvedev would want, however sets 2 and 3 both average below 5 shots per point, partially driven by Novak increasing the offensive, but more by Medvedev trying to go more on offense that he was used to.

Another facet of the game where he was rushing himself was time in-between serves.

He was average 18 seconds between points, where as Novak was taking the full allotted time permitted by the time clock. After losing a point Novak would take a little bit longer to reset himself, whereas Medvedev was often at the line serving even quicker. The normally clear-thinking Medvedev was rattled by the occasion and Novak’s play.