Novak Djokovic underlined his status as the top performer at Melbourne Park after clinching a ninth Australian Open title with a comfortable victory over Daniil Medvedev.
The world number one had never been beaten in a final at his most successful tournament, but that record seemed to be under considerable threat given the form of his opponent, who went into his second grand slam final on a run of 20 successive victories.
But Djokovic gave another reminder of what makes him one of the greatest exponents the sport has ever seen with a relentless display of baseline hitting to win 7-5 6-2 6-2.
The victory brought him a third successive title in Melbourne and an 18th slam crown overall, moving him to within two of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the top of the men’s all-time standings.
This was one of the more remarkable of those 18, with Djokovic looking down and out after sustaining an abdominal injury in the third round against Taylor Fritz and battling through matches against Milos Raonic and Alexander Zverev.
He declared himself back in peak condition after beating Aslan Karatsev in straight sets in the semi-finals, which proved to be bad news for Medvedev.
The Russian’s strengths are very similar to those of Djokovic, with the 25-year-old a relentless hitter from the baseline, particularly on the backhand side, and a tremendous athlete for his 6ft 6in frame.
He had won three of his last four matches against Djokovic, including in straight sets at the ATP Finals in London in November, but he quickly discovered the Serbian in Melbourne is a different animal.
Djokovic set his stall out by racing to a 3-0 lead, only for Medvedev to fight back and level.
The world number one’s serve has been particularly impressive this tournament, though, arguably keeping him in it when he was struggling physically, and he held comfortably from there before breaking to take the first set.
Tactically it was a very smart performance from the top seed, who was making Medvedev play from the centre of the court, particularly off his forehand, and drawing the errors he was looking for.
Djokovic’s consistent excellence has the effect of making the court seem smaller and smaller for his opponent, and Medvedev started to over press, aiming closer to the lines and missing.
A break of serve to start the second set was swiftly snuffed out by a run of four games in a row for Djokovic, and even smashing a racket did nothing to alleviate Medvedev’s frustration.
Another break of serve handed Djokovic the second set, and the match was all but over when Medvedev, missing only the steam coming out of his ears, dumped a volley into the net to trail 2-0 in the third.
Medvedev had fought back from two sets down to push Nadal to a fifth set in his previous slam final at the US Open in 2019, but that was never on the cards here and Djokovic took his first match point with an overhead.
With his ninth title, the 33-year-old becomes only the second man after Nadal in Paris to win a slam more than eight times.
Djokovic’s success also continues the unprecedented dominance of himself, Federer and Nadal, who have now won 15 of the last 16 slam titles despite all being well into their 30s.
Holding aloft the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, he said: “I would like to return nice words to Daniil. First of all, class act, you are a great guy, great person, you show again why.
“We used to spend more time together in Monaco. You’re not calling me any more last few years. But it’s nice to see you’re thinking good things about me. I really like Daniil as a person off the court.
“On the court he’s definitely one of the toughest players that I ever faced in my life. It’s a matter of time when you’re going to hold a grand slam, that’s for sure. If you don’t mind waiting a few more years.”
Djokovic continued: “Next I’d like to thank my team. It has been a rollercoaster ride for me, especially in the last couple of weeks. (Physio) Uli (Badio), special thanks to you. You’ve dedicated so much time to making sure I’m able to play. I’m eternally grateful. Thank you guys, I love you.
“There are lot of mixed feelings about what has happened in the last month or so with tennis players coming to Australia but, I think, when we draw a line in the end, it was a successful tournament.
“It wasn’t easy, it was very challenging on many different levels but I think (organisers) should be proud of themselves for what they have put together and allowed us to come to Australia and be standing here.
“Last but not least I would like to thank this court. I would like to thank Rod Laver Arena. I love you each year more and more. The love affair keeps going.”
After picking up the runners-up plate, Medvedev said: “Never easy to speak when you’ve just lost a final of a grand slam but I’m going to try to do my best, better than on the court hopefully.
“First of all congrats to Novak and your team. Nine grand slams in Australia is amazing and probably it’s not your last one. I have no words to say.
“Just to tell you a small story, first I practised with Novak when I was 500 or 600 in the world in Monaco. He was already number one, and I thought, ‘OK he’s not going to speak to me or something’, because the guy was a God for me.
“Because I was shy I didn’t speak, he was asking me questions, talking to me like a friend and you’ve never changed. You are a great sport, great person.
“Of course big thanks to Gilles and Dasha, my wife and my coach. It was not the best day today but a good three last months after some tough circumstances so thank you guys for being with me. Hopefully we’re going to hold a grand slam soon.”