MELBOURNE — Somehow, neither Daniil Medvedev or Andy Murray has ever won the Australian Open. This weekend, that might be about to change.
At first glance, you might think Medvedev is not a great finalist.
In his career, he has won 21 and lost 16 of them and at grand slam level, he has only won one of five so far.
But take a look at the opponents he has faced in those major finals and it becomes abundantly clear why: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic.
In that context, Medvedev’s haul of even one grand slam title – won against Djokovic in straight sets at the US Open three years ago – is a respectable one.
Murray managed an identical haul in his first five grand slam finals, two of which came against Djokovic and three against Roger Federer.
For both men, those titles still only count as one but somehow feel as though they should have credit in the bank for more. Murray’s dividend finally paid out in 2016 when, having faced Djokovic seven times in slam finals, he was finally the more experienced man against Milos Raonic.
He beat Raonic in the 2016 Wimbledon final, the only time he has met someone with fewer final appearances than him in such a showdown.
The Brit had to wait until his 11th final, so in that sense Medvedev is lucky that his “Raonic moment” has come so much earlier, but perhaps not in terms of his opponent. Jannik Sinner may be playing in his first ever grand slam final, but he will start as a significant favourite, as much as 73 per cent with the bookies.
The Italian has won his last three matches against Medvedev, having previously lost all six – not that the Russian thinks much has shifted in their rivalry.
“There is nothing too much of a tactical change when he won the last three,” Medvedev said.
Sinner vs Medvedev
Australian Open final
“He did a little more serve-and-volley, maybe a little more aggressive, but at the same time that’s what he’s doing against everyone. He’s just playing better.
“The three matches, all of them were tough. Two tiebreaks and two three-setters. I had my chances.
“It was all of them were in the end of the season where I felt like I was not at my 100 per cent, even if I was playing pretty good, but I was maybe at 97, 96. And against him, you need to be at 100.”
Without getting embroiled in percentages too much, Medvedev cannot claim to be 100 per cent coming into this final. In another similarity to Murray, his game style can often usher in physical matches and he has already played three five-setters in Melbourne this month.
In total, Medvedev has spent just short of six hours more on court in his six matches so far, while only Djokovic has even managed to take a set off him. But the Serb seems to share Medvedev’s nonplussed attitude to Sinner’s evolution.
“He was always smacking the ball really hard from both forehand and backhand corner,” Djokovic said after defeat in the semi-finals.
“Just he’s famous kind of for that, just slaps the ball, plays very quick, loves to be aggressive.
“I think his serve improved a lot. He’s hitting his corners very well, and I think he up his speed, as well. Serving bigger now and more precise. Movement overall and mental part.
“He was always very calm, very composed in the court, but I think he struggled maybe to win the big matches in the big moments. But now it’s coming together for him.”
It feels like an opportune moment for both men, in a grand slam final without Djokovic on the other side of the net – something the likes of Murray faced precious few times. But only one of them can take that opportunity. History awaits.