In Bercy, facing each other in their third final of the year, Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev confirmed the emergence of a sporting rivalry which could take on impressive proportions over the coming years.

 

Often compared to an octopus because of his tentacle-like arms that seem to multiply to reach balls in the farthest corners of the court, Daniil Medvedev could also be compared to a hermit crab. With Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer absent due to injury, the Russian stole the shell of number one rival Novak Djokovic. “A great rivalry is developing on the court between Daniil and me,” the Serbian announced at the trophy ceremony after a superb Paris Masters tournament. After defeating the Russian 4/6 6/3 6/3 in a match so electrifying it threatened to bring down the power grid, the Serbian won their third duel of the year. And the previous two were also finals. 

One at the Australian Open – a victory for Djokovic – the other at the US Open, where Medvedev prevented his opponent from becoming the first man to win 21 Majors and the second to achieve the Grand Slam in the Open era. A combination that could have seen off the competition in the race for the greatest records in the history of the sport. Head-to-head, Djokovic has won six of their 10 clashes. But two of these took place in 2017. Since 2019, when “Danya” – as Medvedev is affectionately known – broke through to the highest level, they have notched up four victories each. “I like playing against him, but I don’t know if he likes playing against (me),” Gilles Cervara's protégé even declared after qualifying for the final in Paris.

Arriving in the French capital, the “Djoker” had one objective: to make sure he ends the year as the world number 1 for the seventh time and become the sole record holder, overtaking Pete Sampras who ended six seasons at the top of the ranking. An ambition he accomplished by defeating Hubert Hurkacz in the semi-final. “I felt a huge relief knowing that I achieved this goal,” he told a press conference. “I just kind of felt more relaxed today (Sunday, in the final against Medvedev). Even though there is always a pressure playing against the no. 2 of the world, and probably my biggest rival in tennis at the moment in this season, and, you know, I wanted to finish the tournament with a trophy. There is no doubt about it.” 

“He (Medvedev) is closing into on the world no. 1 ranking,” added the Spider-Man of tennis. “I'm sure he's going to get it eventually, and when he does, it's completely deserved, because he's the leader of the next generation of players, where you have Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Tsitsipas, Rublev, these guys... (...) We still have a lot of years to come, and I'll certainly have the opportunity to win Grand Slams,” declared the 34-year-old star, who has repeatedly stated his intention to continue his career into his forties. As well as a 37th Masters 1000 win – yet another record ahead of Rafael Nadal’s 36 – the challenge was also to reassert his supremacy on the circuit. 

Having not returned to the court since his heartbreak in New York, the boss wanted to show that he was back in the office. “There was a feeling that he absolutely wanted to win,” said Medvedev. “I knew he would want to get his revenge (after the US Open).” And, despite his triumph in the US, the 25-year-old knew he wouldn’t have any mental advantage over his older rival. “When you know Novak, you realize that it is impossible to have any upper hand psychologically on him,” he said. A source of inspiration. “I'm taking that as an example,” he added. “I want it to be the case for me as well.” 

“Andrey (Rublev), Grigor (Dimitrov) and Novak (Djokovic) are the last three players who beat me. So the next time that I will play these three opponents this question shouldn’t be raised: ‘Will Daniil be affected psychologically?'” Rivals on the court, the two men have always liked each other off it. “The first time I trained with Novak, I must have been around 500th or 600th in the world and he was already number 1,” Medvedev commented after their encounter in Melbourne at the start of the season. “I was very shy, because the guy was a god for me, but he put me at my ease straight away by treating me like a friend.”

“His attitude hasn’t changed since then,” he continued. “He’s always been the same with me, whether I’m 500th or in the Top 10. Novak, you’re a great sportsman and a great person. The only criticism I have is that you were late (smiles).” This Sunday evening, Djokovic publicly confirmed their friendship once again. “What I love and respect about Daniil is his commitment to being true to who he is at all times,” he wrote on Twitter. “Being authentic and original. Doesn’t matter what others think, say or expect, he keeps his heart and mind checked and measures his deeds based on his values.” Which just goes to show that although they may be enemies on the court, Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus can still be friends.