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Can Medvedev halt Sinner’s surge in Australian Open showdown?

Title match set for Sunday night at hard-court major in Melbourne
January 26, 2024
Daniil Medvedev leads Jannik Sinner 6-3 in the pair's Lexus ATP Head2Head series.
ATP Tour
Daniil Medvedev leads Jannik Sinner 6-3 in the pair's Lexus ATP Head2Head series. By Andy West

There will be a new pair of hands on the trophy Sunday evening at the Australian Open.

Daniil Medvedev and Jannik Sinner go head-to-head inside Rod Laver Arena for the first Grand Slam title of the 2024 season. It will be a battle between two established Top 5 stars, but the duo’s respective journeys through the draw in Melbourne could hardly have been more different.

Sinner has been almost untouchable throughout his run to his maiden major championship match. The 22-year-old Italian had not dropped a set until his semi-final with 10-time champion Novak Djokovic, upon whom he nonetheless inflicted a first Australian Open defeat since 2018 in four sets.

In contrast, Medvedev has twice been on the brink of defeat so far this fortnight. He trailed both Emil Ruusuvuori in the second round and Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals by two sets, only to rally both times to marathon victories. The third seed’s reward is a sixth major final appearance, and his third in Melbourne, as he looks to add a second Grand Slam crown to his 2021 US Open win.

Having played just 19 completed sets in the tournament to Medvedev’s 25 and coming in off the back of snapping Djokovic’s 33-match Australian Open winning streak, Sinner will step on court Sunday full of confidence. Yet the 22-year-old will not allow the convincing manner of his run, and particularly his semi-final victory against the World No. 1, to mask the task at hand against Medvedev.

“Obviously, it means so much to me to beat Novak here in Melbourne, but in another way, I know that the tournament is not over,” said the fourth-seeded Sinner after his semi-final win. “Sunday is a final. It's different emotions because the final is always different.

“It doesn't really matter how big the tournament is. In my mind today I knew it was the semi-final. It's not that you win the tournament like this. I'm looking forward for Sunday, and let's see what's coming.”

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The way Medvedev raised his game to overcome Ruusuvuori and Zverev were reminders of how the 26-year-old’s relentless baseline retrieving skills help him capitalise on any dip in level from an opponent. Even if Sinner gets off to a fast start in Sunday’s final, Medvedev is not likely to lose belief he can win.

“Mentally 100 per cent, I'm stronger than I was before this tournament, because now I know that I'm capable of some things maybe I thought I'm not,” said Medvedev after defeating Zverev. “Because before I didn't do anything like this to get to the final [before], so mentally I'm stronger than before, and I'm happy about it.

“Probably honestly, it's better to be in the final winning three-set, four-set matches. That's the better way physically. But it is what it is, and I'm proud and looking forward to the final to give my 100 per cent again.”

Sinner broke two long-standing ducks during his rich vein of form in late 2023. As well as notching his first two wins against Djokovic at the Nitto ATP Finals and the Davis Cup Finals, the Italian also bounced back from losing his first six Lexus ATP Head2Head clashes with Medvedev in style.

In October, the Italian beat Medvedev in back-to-back ATP 500 finals in Beijing and Vienna, respectively, before adding a third straight win against the World No. 3 in their Nitto ATP Finals semi-final. Improvements on his serve and a willingness to move to the net more to counter Medvedev’s deep return position were a notable feature of those victories for Sinner.

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Those skills will likely be key again on Sunday for the fourth seed, and Sinner will also hope to at least match his winner count of 31 against Djokovic as he tries to break down Medvedev’s renowned defence.

“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,” reflected Medvedev of his late-2023 encounters with Sinner. “He's just playing better.

“The three matches, all of them were tough. Two tie-breaks and two three-setters. I had my chances. 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. I was maybe at 97, 96 per cent, and against him you need to be at 100.”

In Melbourne, Sinner has so far vindicated the theory that his game has hit new heights in recent months. The Italian, who lifted the biggest title of his career so far at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Toronto last August, is nonetheless determined not to get carried away as he seeks to become a Grand Slam champion for the first time.

“I think after last year, especially the end of the year, it gave me confidence that I could potentially do some good results in Grand Slams,” said Sinner. “But you still have to show it. There are people who talk a lot, but you have to show it, because at the end of the day you're going on the court and you have to play.

“If it's not this year, it's next year, and then if it's not next year, it's the next year again. I'm really relaxed, to be honest. I just try to work as hard as possible and, in my mind, I feel like the hard work always pays off in one way. We are working really hard for our dreams.”

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