AO 2024: Evolution of finalists Sinner and Medvedev

There will be a new name on the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup for the first time since Stan Wawrinka in 2014.

Daniil Medvedev Jannik Sinner Miami 2023©Sindy Thomas / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

It's January 2005, Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt head onto Rod Laver Arena in the hope of glory.

The significance? It’s the last time the Australian Open final didn’t include a member of the much-heralded, ultra-dominant, 'Big Three' of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

The landscape of men's tennis has shifted with Daniil Medvedev and Jannik Sinner out to prove they can lead the current crop in Sunday's final at Melbourne Park.

Medvedev has managed to be disrupt the established order with US Open 2021 silverware, has topped the rankings, the world No.3 is accustomed to these settings. 

Over to Sinner, 'The Fox' has been biding his time for major success and now has the chance to be the youngest men's champion in Melbourne since Djokovic in 2008.

Just prior to Roland-Garros 2023, Sinner insisted: "I'm not afraid of nobody, because I have a great potential, I have the tennis, so it's a question of time."

Sinner: "The process we are making is not finished yet"

That time is now.

The 22-year-old has transformed from a Top 10 prodigy into a true major contender, exemplified by his fortnight Down Under. Sinner swatted aside five opponents without dropping a set, then in the semi-finals the inspired Italian dethroned world No.1 Djokovic to alter all sorts of records.

A mental shift, a sense of belonging at the very top, has been crucial.

"In tennis when you believe it's a huge amount already...I think you win the matches not only on that day. You win it because you feel prepared for a good fight. You feel prepared mentally and also physically," mused Sinner.

"Especially end of last year gave me confidence that I could potentially do some good results in Grand Slams. But in the other way, you still have to show it.

"If it's not this year, it's next year, and then if not, it's the next year again. I'm really relaxed. In my mind I feel like the hard work always pays off. The process we are making is not finished yet, because I feel like that we still have to improve a lot."

During the 2022 campaign Sinner made the bold decision to switch up his whole team and they've managed to build up that belief, whilst also building up his body to withstand the rigours of two weeks running the Grand Slam gauntlet. In June 2022 he also enlisted renowned coach Darren Cahill to join the jovial, light-hearted, but fiercely driven set up.

"Work ethic, purpose, desire, willingness to learn, tennis IQ of all those," said Cahill, describing the No.4 seed's attributes.

"He had some pretty poor head-to-head records against some of the best players up until last year. That's a great quality and that's what he needs to continue to do - never stop evolving and never stop getting better."

The Sinner camp highlight the Wimbledon 2022 quarter-final defeat by Djokovic as a turning point, where he surrendered a two-sets lead to the Serbian. Over to the world No.1 to underpin Sinner's evolution.

"He was always smacking the ball really hard from both forehand and backhand corner. Just he's kind of famous for that," said Djokovic, who has now lost to the 22-year-old three out of four times since November.

"Serving bigger now and more precise. Movement overall and mental part. He was always very calm, very composed in the court, but I think he struggled maybe to win the big matches, in the big moments.

"Yeah, he's got a great team, he's on a very good path."

Medvedev: "Against him, you need to be at 100%"

Sinner knows his first Grand Slam final opponent inside out. As a "huge tennis fan," the 22-year-old said he'd tune in to watch the second semi-final. What did Sinner see? Well, 'never say die' as per usual from Medvedev.

The 2021-22 runner-up reeled in Alexander Zverev from two sets down in a lung-bursting battle, taking his total time on court to an astonishing 20 hours 33 minutes this fortnight.

Sinner will certainly have more resources in the tank when they stride onto court, as well as the edge in their recent rumbles.

Medvedev claimed the opening six clashes in their rivalry, but as Cahill stated, Sinner's patience and perseverance has paid off to prevail in their last three encounters. That trio includes Beijing and Vienna final triumphs, before 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-1 in November at the ATP Finals.

"In my opinion, there is nothing too much of a tactical change when he won the last three. He's just playing better," said Medvedev.

"I had my chances. I felt like I was not at my 100 percent, but I was maybe at 97, 96. And against him, you need to be at 100.

"Especially end of the season he started playing whole different level. So, if I want to beat him, I have to raise my level on a whole different level." 

In an intriguing facet, this will be the first Grand Slam final the 27-year-old will be the favourite on paper.

His previous five major finals were up against the formidable duopoly of Djokovic and Nadal, who have won 18 of the past 22 Grand Slams.

The US Open 2021 winner, toppling Djokovic in New York, heads into his third title showdown at Melbourne Park, in contrast to Sinner's first time feeling at this stage.

"We say, third time lucky. Let’s see. I can say by experience, it’s not always like that, but hopefully here it works," quipped the No.3 seed, who lost the 2022 Australian Open final against Nadal despite a two set lead.

"I hope that this experience can help me. Physical advantage I probably don't have. Tennis advantage, let's see, but three last times he got me.

"First final, I think it's always different for everyone, I have no idea how Jannik is going to be. I will try my best. I will fight for my life."

Two marathon victories from two sets down this fortnight, the world No.3 has dug deep, whilst retaining, by large, a pretty even temperament.

On holiday at the end of 2023, Medvedev made a New Year's resolution to change his on-court focus.

"Every match something would disturb me, someone in the crowd, maybe disagree with the umpire. I would not be 100 per cent okay with myself. Just don't want to have it anymore. I want to play tennis, I want to be proud of myself, I want to fight and stuff like this," added Medvedev.

"So during this holiday, I was trying some new things, some new breathing exercises. I know a little bit more about my body now. I know a little bit more about my mind. Maybe I know a little bit more why things happen.

"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. So far I'm 100 per cent into it, and when I'm 100 per cent into something, I tend to do it till the end."