When the newly appointed Australian Diamonds coach Stacey Marinkovich called Cara Koenen to let her know that she had been selected in the squad to play New Zealand in the upcoming Constellation Cup, Koenen remembers bursting into tears.
And then there were two.
The 2021 Australian Open will reach its climax tomorrow night when Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev go toe-to-toe for the men’s singles championship on Rod Laver Arena.
In one corner is Djokovic, who has reigned as the king of Melbourne Park since winning his first major title here as a 20-year-old in 2008, when he defeated the unheralded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the championship match.
Thirteen years and seven titles later, the Serb will have the chance to further etch his name into tennis immortality with a record-extending ninth title, but his run to this year’s final has not been without its challenges.
After winning his first match against Jeremy Chardy in straight sets, Djokovic dropped three sets to his next two opponents, needing four sets to defeat Frances Tiafoe while he was also stretched to five sets by 27th seed Taylor Fritz.
Djokovic was leading Fritz by two sets to love before he suffered an apparent muscle tear. Not only that, he also had to contend with fans being evicted from Rod Laver Arena as the clock ticked towards midnight and a five-day snap lockdown in Victoria.
Australian tennis' new reality, for the moment.
Fans are asked to leave the stadium.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) February 12, 2021
This meant he, and all the remaining players left in the draw, had to play their next few matches in front of empty stands, in what were all-too-familiar scenes after sporting events continued to be held crowdless when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared as such last March.
He then needed four sets to defeat Milos Raonic, in a rematch of their quarter-final duel from last year, before coming from a set down to oust German sixth seed Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals.
With the crowds back, so too was Djokovic’s form, as he won just his second straight-sets match in the semi-final against Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev, who became the first man in Open Era history to reach the semi-finals of his grand slam debut.
And while the 33-year-old should start favourite to win his ninth Australian Open title this Sunday night, he will face an opponent who is rising up the ranks and is looming as another one of the potential successors to the so-called big three.
That opponent is Daniil Medvedev, who is hoping to join Dominic Thiem as a grand slam men’s singles champion born in the 1990s, and also the latest-born man to do so (he recently celebrated his 25th birthday during the first week of the tournament).
Medvedev will be contesting his second major final after previously losing to Rafael Nadal in five sets in the final of the 2019 US Open, and will be hoping to break his country’s barren run at the majors, with Marat Safin the last Russian man to salute at the highest level.
It was 16 years ago that Safin broke the hearts of millions of locals when he defeated hometown favourite Lleyton Hewitt in the final in four sets.
En route to this title, he defeated a then-teenage Novak Djokovic in the first round, and then edged out Roger Federer in a semi-final cliffhanger on the day of his 25th birthday.
Coincidentally, Medvedev celebrated his own 25th birthday this year with a victory over Roberto Carballes Baena in the second round, though it was not as dramatic as Safin’s heroics all those years ago.
Before that, the Russian fourth seed defeated Vasek Pospisil, a former Wimbledon quarter-finalist, in the first round, and then in the third round he needed five sets to defeat Serbian 28th seed Filip Krajinovic.
After defeating Mackenzie McDonald in the fourth round, the 25-year-old defeated compatriot and good friend Andrey Rublev in the quarter-finals, and then knocked out Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semi-finals, both in straight sets.
What was expected to be a close and exciting match against Tsitsipas proved anything but, as Medvedev showed his class, not facing a break point in the first two sets and despite a hiccup midway through the third, broke in the 11th game to complete the victory.
He will now take a 20-match winning streak into Sunday night’s men’s championship match, but at the same time, he will face a man who holds a 20-match winning streak at the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic having not been beaten here since 2018.
Medvedev is also one of the few players whose winning percentage against Djokovic is close to 50 per cent, winning three of their past four meetings, after Djokovic had won the first three meetings, including in the fourth round of the 2019 Australian Open.
The most recent meeting between the pair saw Medvedev claim a straight-sets victory in the round-robin stage of last year’s ATP Finals, en route to claiming what was his biggest career title to that point in time.
The 25-year-old now has the chance to take the next step up and claim his maiden grand slam title, but to do that he will have to overcome a colossus named Novak Djokovic and do it at a tournament where Djokovic has reigned supreme since 2008.
So can the apprentice topple the master, or will Djokovic continue to underline his status as the king of Melbourne Park?
Now that you’ve got all the background info, it’s time to crunch the all-important numbers below.
Rod Laver Arena from 7:30pm (AEDT)
 Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs  Daniil Medvedev (RUS)
Head to head
All matches: Djokovic 4-3
At the majors: Djokovic 1-0
In finals: first meeting
Last meeting: Medvedev won 6-3, 6-3, round robin, 2020 ATP Finals
Last meeting at a major: Djokovic won 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-3, fourth round, 2019 Australian Open
Novak Djokovic’s road to the final
Round 1: defeated Jeremy Chardy (FRA) 6-3, 6-1, 6-2
Round 2: defeated Frances Tiafoe (USA) 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 7-6 (7-2), 6-3
Round 3: defeated  Taylor Fritz (USA) 7-6 (7-1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2
Round 4: defeated  Milos Raonic (CAN) 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4
Quarter-final: defeated  Alexander Zverev (GER) 6-7 (6-8), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6)
Semi-final: defeated Aslan Karatsev (RUS) 6-3, 6-4, 6-2
Daniil Medvedev’s road to the final
Round 1: defeated Vasek Pospisil (CAN) 6-2, 6-2, 6-4
Round 2: defeated Roberto Carballes Baena (ESP) 6-2, 7-5, 6-1
Round 3: defeated  Filip Krajinovic (SRB) 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 3-6, 6-0
Round 4: defeated Mackenzie McDonald (USA) 6-4, 6-2, 6-3
Quarter-final: defeated  Andrey Rublev (RUS) 7-5, 6-3, 6-2
Semi-final: defeated  Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) 6-4, 6-2, 7-5
The stats that matter
• This is Novak Djokovic’s 28th grand slam final, and ninth at the Australian Open, while for Daniil Medvedev this is his second grand slam final and first at the Australian Open.
• Djokovic is aiming for a record-extending ninth Australian Open title, which would mean that half of his 18 major titles would’ve been won at Melbourne Park.
• An 18th major title would also see Djokovic close to within two of the joint record of 20 major men’s singles titles held by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal (though Nadal is expected to take the lead with a 21st major at Roland Garros later this year).
• Medvedev is aiming to become the first Russian man to win a major title since Marat Safin won here in 2005. He will carry a 20-match winning streak into the final, but Djokovic has also won that number of matches consecutively at Melbourne Park (last loss in 2018).
• Medvedev is the ninth different opponent to face Djokovic in a major final, after Roger Federer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Kevin Anderson, Juan Martin del Potro and Dominic Thiem, and the fifth different at the Australian Open.
• Medvedev is aiming to become just the eighth different man to win the Australian Open this century (after Safin, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Wawrinka, Andre Agassi and Thomas Johansson).
• Djokovic has never lost an Australian Open final, but if he does lose on Sunday night, he will complete the dinner set (that is, finishing as winner and runner-up at each of the four majors. Roger Federer and Serena Williams, among others, have achieved this).
Novak Djokovic in four sets.
Before the men’s championship, tonight we have the women’s decider to look forward to. You can read a preview of that here.
Following that is the mixed doubles decider, in which the Australian pairing of Samantha Stosur and Matt Ebden will be up against the sixth seeds, Barbora Krejcikova and Rajeev Ram.
Rod Laver Arena from 7:30pm (AEDT)
Women’s singles championship match
 Jennifer Brady (USA) vs  Naomi Osaka (JPN)
Mixed doubles championship match
Samantha Stosur (AUS)/Matt Ebden (AUS) vs  Barbora Krejcikova (CZE)/Rajeev Ram (USA)