Novak Djokovic will not only have to contend with a red-hot Daniil Medvedev in Sunday night's Australian Open men's singles final, he'll also have the weight of a torrid 2020 on his shoulders.
After dominating last year's Australian Open, there was talk Djokovic might have gone on to win all four slams that year - a feat which, for a variety of reasons, he did not accomplish.
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As the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the 2020 season, Djokovic was unable to contest the cancelled Wimbledon, while he was memorably booted from the U.S. Open in the fourth round after hitting a ball at a lineswoman.
Djokovic was then handily beaten by longtime rival Rafael Nadal in the French Open final.
With his chance at an 18th grand slam victory on the line, former Australian doubles great Todd Woodbridge said the mental weight of having such a rich vein of form robbed from him will be a challenge for Djokovic to overcome.
— ATP Tour (@atptour) February 21, 2021
Woodbridge told the Morning Serve program on Channel 9 that Djokovic would need to find a reserve of mental resolve to overcome his Russian challenger.
"(These incidents) have some scarring that he has to get over," Woodbridge said.
"I think last year, mentally, has a bit of scarring which he somehow has to get rid of.
"He's still the best player in the world.
"For me, it's a bit about how mentally he sits in this match tonight.
Because it's been such a different year - and such a different tournament. To have fans, no fans, fans back, how does he react to that?
"That's been a big part of his story when he's on the court, using the fans as energy, whether that's positive or negative."
Beating Novak not always the path to glory
A win over Novak Djokovic will secure Daniil Medvedev the world No.2 ranking, $2.75 million in prize money and cement his reputation as the hottest player in men's tennis.
But joining a club of just eight to beat the Serb at the Australian Open isn't always a path to greatness.
Just ask Hyeon Chung and Denis Istomin.
The last two players to beat the eight-time champion in Melbourne have largely disappeared from the tennis radar through injury and poor form.
Korean Chung was touted as part of the rising next generation when he beat Djokovic in straight sets in a round-of-16 clash at the 2018 event.
He went on to make the semi-finals and achieve a top-20 ranking.
But coming back to defend those points the following year precipitated a rankings slide, with a back injury in 2019 hardly helping matters.
He's now ranked 169 in the world.
Istomin was a rank outsider when he beat Djokovic in the second round back in 2017.
At 117 in the world, he became the first player outside the top 100 to beat Djokovic at a grand slam.
After a short-term rankings boost, the Uzbek slid back outside the top 100 and is now ranked No.184 in the world.
He played a Challenger event last week, going down to world No.232 Ruben Bemelmans in the round of 16.
Djokovic's six other conquerors have fared somewhat better.
Stan Wawrinka used his epic five-set quarter-final victory in 2014 as something of a launch-pad for the top-end of his career.
He went on to seal his first major in Melbourne that tournament and gained the confidence to know he could beat the greats on the greatest stages - winning the French Open and US Open over the following two years.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga got a small measure of revenge for his 2008 final loss, by downing Djokovic at the quarter-final stage in 2010 while the 17-time grand slam champion retired against Andy Roddick in 2009.
There was no shame in losing to Roger Federer in his pomp in 2007 in the fourth round when Djokovic was ranked No.15 in the world while defeats to Paul Goldstein and Marat Safin in 2006 and 2005 would only be remembered by tennis trainspotters.
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