Bob Marley once sung that “none of them can stop the time,” an idea expanded upon by Nas who declared that “time is illmatic” – not just an incredible force but the incredible force and necessarily, implacably, essentially so.
All very true, but neither man had experienced a pandemic. Things are different now, and the way in which we measure our lives might never be the same, the simple passage of days taking on different meaning or meaning nothing at all. How on earth can we grasp what’s happened and what’s happening, if we have no context in which to set it? If everything stops – if we don’t experience joy, change and the touch of those closest to us – then are we even alive?
Well, tennis is here to save us. If Daniil Medvedev beats Novak Djokovic, then for the first time since July 2003, the best men’s player in the world won’t be him, him, him or him. It’s true that a win won’t take Medvedev to number one, but ultimately it’s about winning majors not topping lists, and ya boy has won 20 matches straight, 13 of them against top-10 players. If he can augment that run by just one, then we can be sure that we’re not stuck in what Doc Emmet Brown called a “paradox”; that we really do exist.
Medvedev has won three of the last four meetings between the players, and is that rarity on tour: someone who annoys rather than is annoyed by Djokovic. Somehow, the Serbian is spooked by an opponent with no deadly weapons who’s about nothing but hitting the round thing into the rectangular thing, over and over again, right close to the baseline where it’s hard to get back.
And so he should be. Competing against someone as monomaniacal as Medvedev is no joke, all the more so when your game is about sticking in rallies longer than your opponent, and though Djokovic’s angled forehand – that hook shot from the centre that pretty much only he can play – will cause trouble, it’s not one to unfurl on every point. He’ll have performed some serious thinking to get ready for this.
Of course, Djokovic has already done 17 times what Medvedev is trying to do for the first time, and that is a significant factor in his favour, so too that he’s serving more aces than ever before. But he’s playing an opponent he knows will turn up and the injury he’s carrying will remind him that, as Leonard Cohen reminds us, it’s later than he thinks. For professional sportsmen, time will always exist – and this might just be epochal.
Play: 7.30am local, 8.30am GMT