Daniil Medvedev entered the Australian Open final in red-hot form and with a strong recent record against Novak Djokovic – yet he still fell well short.
Djokovic's record-extending ninth Australian Open title and 18th major overall came in comprehensive fashion with a 7-5 6-2 6-2 thrashing of Medvedev at the Rod Laver Arena on Sunday.
Medvedev was on a 20-match winning streak that included 12 victories over top-10 players, including Djokovic - who he had beaten in three of their previous four meetings. Still, the Russian was still dismantled.
Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have now won 10 of the past 11 grand slams. The other was Dominic Thiem's success last year at the US Open, where Djokovic stunningly defaulted in the fourth round and Nadal and Roger Federer were absent.
The 'Big Four' became the 'Big Three' following Andy Murray's injury woes, and that may now be the 'Big Two'.
Federer shares the men's grand slam record with Nadal on 20, but the last of those for the Swiss great came in 2018 and the 39-year-old has missed the past three majors.
Djokovic, 33, and Nadal, 34, have shown few signs of slowing down. With the Serbian dominating in Melbourne and the Spaniard continuing to own Roland Garros, they seem to have at least one grand slam each locked away every year.
After his loss on Sunday, Medvedev said of the trio of greats: "Nothing else to say than they are undoubtedly, I don't think anyone can argue with this, the three biggest names in tennis history. I'm talking only about results. I'm not talking off court, game. I'm talking about results. What they did in tennis is unbelievable for me.
"I'm 25 now. To win nine Australian Opens, I need to win every year until I'm 34. I mean, I believe in myself, but I don't think I'm able to do it. Same with Rafa. I mean, 13 Roland Garros... We're talking about some cyborgs of tennis in a good way. They're just unbelievable.
"When I'm out there, I'm not thinking, 'Okay, they are too strong for me.' I always want to win. I beat some of them in some big tournaments, like London [the ATP Finals] for example. I just need to be better next time in the grand slam finals against these two guys or Roger."
Thiem took his chance and landed a major at Flushing Meadows, while he has shaped as the most likely successor to Nadal in Paris, where he lost finals in 2018 and 2019. Medvedev has found his rhythm and Sunday's defeat was his second in a major decider.
Stefanos Tsitsipas, 2020 US Open runner-up Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev and Matteo Berrettini look like potential threats, while Canadian pair Denis Shapovalov, 21, and Felix Auger-Aliassime, 20, continue improving.
But Medvedev looked more than capable of ending Djokovic's incredible record in Melbourne before falling well short, showing potential challengers they still have a way to go if they are to finally stop the all-time greats.