Medvedev recalls long-ago practice session with Djokovic

Posted: Feb 21, 2021 / 10:12 AM EST Updated: Feb 21, 2021 / 10:12 AM EST

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, left, holds the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup as he talks with runner-up Russia’s Daniil Medvedev after winning the men’s singles final at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021.(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Daniil Medvedev showered Novak Djokovic with praise after losing to him in the Australian Open final, even telling the story of a joint practice session a half-dozen years ago or so in Monte Carlo, where both have homes.

Back then, Djokovic already had been ranked No. 1 and was accumulating Grand Slam titles; Medvedev had yet to crack the Top 300.

“He was late,” Medvedev joked Sunday. “That’s the only bad thing I remember — that he was late.”

Otherwise, the point of Medvedev’s story was how friendly and unassuming Djokovic was to a nobody. Much nicer, it turned out, than Djokovic was in Rod Laver Arena on Sunday, when he dominated Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 to win a ninth title at Melbourne Park and 18th major trophy.

“He was super nice to me,” Medvedev recalled.

“I thought, ‘OK, he’s not going to speak to me’ or something, because the guy was a god for me,” Medvedev said. “Because I was shy, I didn’t speak. He was asking the questions, talking to me like a friend. I was really surprised.”

Medvedev said that and other positive interactions with Djokovic “helped me a lot, I would say, for my confidence in my career.”

The 25-year-old Russian, who is 8 years younger than Djokovic, is now a two-time major finalist and will be ranked No. 3 on Monday. But Medvedev is still chasing that elusive Grand Slam title — he also lost in a final at the 2019 U.S. Open to Rafael Nadal.

Medvedev is not used to being beaten on a tennis court lately. Nearly four months and 20 matches went by since he was on the wrong end of a scoreline. He also had compiled a dozen wins in a row against Top 10 opponents.

But none of those contests came against Djokovic in the Australian Open final. That’s a whole different challenge: The 33-year-old from Serbia is 9-0 in title matches in Melbourne.

Medvedev cracked his racket on the court in a moment of pure frustration in the second set, leaving the head at a right angle to the handle.

Medvedev shook off some early nerves to recover a break in the first set, but then Djokovic raised his level. After dropping the first set, Medvedev broke to open the second, signaling he was still in the contest.

Djokovic responded by winning 11 of the next 13 games to put the result beyond doubt.

Afterward, Djokovic said he figures it is only a matter of time until Medvedev wins a Grand Slam title, although he suggested he wouldn’t mind if that took a few years.

That might give Djokovic time to catch Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have 20 majors each.

It also might mean spending a little less time together outside of tournaments.

“We used to spend more time together. We used to practice more in Monaco. You’re not calling me any more!” Djokovic joked during the trophy ceremony. “But it’s nice to hear you’re thinking good things about me.”

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