Novak Djokovic heads into Sunday’s Australian Open final unbeaten on eight previous occasions in the title match, but knowing he will need to be at his mental and physical best to overcome red-hot Russian Daniil Medvedev
The Serbian world number one has had to battle injury and extract new levels of determination just to get to the final.
An abdominal injury in the third round put him on the brink of an early exit and left him unable to train between matches.
But after his semi-final win over another Russian, Aslan Karatsev, Djokovic reported he felt fitter than at any time during the Melbourne fortnight
On Sunday night he will face an entirely different challenge against “chess player” Medvedev – the form man of tennis who is on a 20-match winning streak.
Medvedev, the world number four, is unbeaten since last November, including a straight-sets drubbing of the Serb at the ATP Finals in London.
“He’s just so solid. Also, I heard (commentator) Jim Courier calling him a master chess player because of the way he tactically positions himself on the court, and it’s true,” Djokovic said.
“You know, he’s definitely a very smart tennis player.”
Djokovic is into his ninth decider at Melbourne Park as he targets an 18th Slam title to close the gap on Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have 20 each.
But the 33-year-old said while experience was clearly an advantage, Medvedev would be a formidable adversary.
The Serb holds the phenomenal record of never losing a final on Melbourne’s famous blue courts in eight attempts spanning 13 years.
Djokovic will also be playing his 28th Grand Slam final. It will be the Russian’s second.
“Of course it contributes to more confidence, prior to coming into the finals, knowing that I never lost in the finals or semi-finals just makes me feel more comfortable being on the court,” Djokovic said.
“But each year is different, although it does have a mental effect on me. Maybe on my opponents, I don’t know, but on me it does definitely have a positive effect.
“But it’s not a decisive factor in the way the match is going to go forward, because each year is different.”
Medvedev, who has dropped just two sets so far, said that despite having all the momentum he will go into the final as the underdog.
“He’s the favourite because he didn’t lose. On eight occasions that he was here in the semis he won the tournament,” said the 25-year-old.
“Me, I’m… the challenger, the guy that challenges the guy who was eight times in the final and won eight times. And I’m happy about it.
“I know that to beat him you need to just show your best tennis, be at your best physically maybe four or five hours, and be at your best mentally maybe for five hours,” he added.
Medvedev, who also reached the 2019 US Open final, losing to Nadal, has the weapons to trouble Djokovic, with a big serve, unrelenting returns and exceptional movement as he targets a maiden Grand Slam title.
Twelve of his 20 straight wins have been against top-10 players and he has won three of his last four against the 17-time Grand Slam-winning Serb.
“Playing Novak seven times already is just a huge experience,” he said.
“(But) I think when he’s in the zone he doesn’t miss. He goes down the line, cross, forehand, backhand, he doesn’t miss. That’s what is the toughest part of playing against him.”