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ATP Paris, France
Djokovic dabbles in new tricks to defeat Medvedev in Paris and earn record 37th Masters 1000 title
The more the world No. 1 approached the net, the more the final match turned in his favor at the Rolex Paris Masters.
Published Nov 07, 2021
Can an old champ learn new tricks? At 34? When he’s already been on tour for 16 years and won 982 matches?
If you’re Novak Djokovic, the answer, after his 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Daniil Medvedev in the final of the Rolex Paris Masters on Sunday, appears to be a resounding yes.
Djokovic has been a man of the baseline for the entirety of his career; Few, if any, have ever done it better from back there. In the vast majority of his matches, he’s the steadier player and better defender, and it’s his opponent who must find ways to disrupt his rock-solid rhythm. But in his previous nine matches against Medvedev, four of which he had lost, Djokovic had discovered that those tables were turned on him. With his speed, wingspan and unshakable consistency, the Russian is one of the few players who can consistently win longer rallies against the Serb. He did it in the US Open final two months ago, and he did it again when he won the opening set against Djokovic on Sunday.
This time, though, Djokovic had prepared for the possibility that his normal strengths might not be as strong as they usually are. Before this match, he said he reviewed the tape of the US Open final to see what had happened that day, what he could do differently, and how he could better read Medvedev’s serve.
“You can’t go through him,” he told Tennis Channel. “You have to find a controlled aggression. You can’t be too aggressive, because you’re just going to lose the match yourself with unforced errors. You have to make him play, make him come in.”
You also, it’s clear now, need to come in yourself. After losing the first set, Djokovic began to race to the net at an abnormally frequent clip for him. And he didn’t just do it during rallies; he served and volleyed as if it were 1990, his last name was Becker or Edberg, and the court in Bercy was still as lighting fast as it was back then. It worked, just like it worked for the net-rushers of old. Djokovic ended up 27 of 36 at net, compared to Medvedev’s nine of 13. The more he came in, the more the match turned in his favor.
“It’s obvious that’s one of the tactical plans against him,” Djokovic said of Medvedev, “because he stands so far back in the court. Open the court with the wide serve and come in.”
But Djokovic didn’t just benefit from winning points at net. He also enjoyed the side benefits that traditionally accrue from successfully employing that style of play. By following his serve in, and not trying to win points outright with it, he made the shot more consistent; he was successful on 12 of his first 14 first serves in the third set. At the baseline, he naturally took a more aggressive posture. And, perhaps best of all, he found a way to pressure Medvedev and throw him off. By the latter stages of the third set, errors had uncharacteristically started to flow from the Russian’s racquet.
Djokovic’s preparations, and willingness to experiment, earned him a record 37th Masters 1000 title, and he improved his record to 6-4 against Medvedev.
“It’s developing into a great rivalry,” Djokovic said. “We push each other to the limit. It takes adjustments. It takes time. The more I play him, the more I understand what I need to do to play against him.”
“He keeps improving,” he added of Medvedev. “I think it’s important for the sport that there’s another rivalry.”
We haven’t seen a changing of the guard in men’s tennis in 2021; we’ve seen a joining of the guard, by Medvedev, who will finish No. 2 in the world. But on Sunday we saw that Djokovic, even at 34, still has new ways to keep himself at No. 1.