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In 'Bearable Pain,' Djokovic Takes 9th Australian Open, 18th Slam

33-year-old climbs lists with 'most challenging' major victory
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 21, 2021 9:35 AM CST

(Newser) – Maybe, the thinking went, Novak Djokovic would be just a tad more susceptible to trouble this time around at the Australian Open. After all, he tore an abdominal muscle in the third round. Entering Sunday, the AP reports, Djokovic had ceded five sets in the tournament, the most he ever dropped en route to a major final. To top it off, he was facing Daniil Medvedev, owner of a 20-match winning streak. But we're talking about Djokovic at Melbourne Park, where his dominance is intact—nine finals, nine championships. Plus, he's still gaining on Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the Grand Slam standings, now up to 18 overall, two shy of the men’s record the rivals share. Djokovic used improved serving, along with his usual relentless returning and baseline excellence, to take 11 of 13 games in one stretch and beat Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 for a third consecutive Australian Open trophy. "Definitely, emotionally, the most challenging Grand Slam that I ever had, with everything that was happening—injury, off-the-court stuff, quarantines," Djokovic said. "A roller-coaster ride."

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When the match ended after less than two hours, Djokovic went to the sideline, lifted his white shirt and peeled beige athletic tape from his stomach. "I was quite worried," Djokovic said. "I did not (think) realistically that I could actually play." Dealing with what he called "bearable" pain, Djokovic improved to a combined 18-0 in semifinals and finals on Melbourne's hard courts. "Probably, it's not your last one," Medvedev said. Djokovic, a 33-year-old from Serbia, has won six of the past 10 majors and will stay No. 1 in the rankings at least through March 8. That will give him 311 weeks there, breaking another mark held by Federer. His eyes now are squarely on Grand Slams. Djokovic has nine triumphs in Australia alongside five at Wimbledon, three at the US Open and one at the French Open. The math looks good for him: He is about a year younger than Nadal and 6½ younger than Federer. "I do enjoy the success every single time even more," Djokovic said, "because I know that the longer the time passes, the more difficult it’s going to become."

(Read more Novak Djokovic stories.)

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