It’s a magnificent seven. Novak Djokovic eclipsed the six Australian Open titles won by Roy Emerson and Roger Federer to take sole ownership of the men’s singles record title haul at Melbourne Park with a resounding 6-3 6-2 6-3 win over Rafael Nadal on Sunday night.
The world No.1 has now won the last three Grand Slam titles in succession, surpassing the trophy hauls of both Emerson and his idol Pete Sampras with his 15th major in the process. But more than the numbers, it was the manner of this victory – equal parts stellar and statement – that underlined the reason for his hegemony here at Rod Laver Arena.
At times Nadal was completely thrown off his game by the world No.1, stumbling out of the blocks amid a raft of errors in the opening set, left second-guessing as the rallies grew longer in the second, and beaten by a string of drop shots as the Serb broke early in the third.
No shot typified the Spaniard’s troubles more than the forehand, which accounted for 15 of his 28 errors. In contrast, Djokovic was virtually flawless, making just nine errors in total, firing 34 winners to Nadal’s 21.
Having played the longest final in Open era history here in their only previous meeting, tussling for nearly six hours back in 2012, the top seed cruised to victory in just two hours, four minutes on Sunday night.
Djokovic burst out to a 3-0 lead within 10 minutes as Nadal, wearing an anxious expression and misfiring his forehand time and again, lost 13 of the first 14 points. Given his own rapid-fire starts at Melbourne Park, having dropped just six games in his last four opening sets, it was a shock to see him made to look so sluggish.
But that is Djokovic’s brilliance, his capacity to neutralise and then attack weapons that devastate virtually every other opponent. As Nadal battled to dial in the forehand, the world No.1 went after it, skidding flat crosscourt backhands into – and sometimes past – the Spaniard’s fearsome wing.
Nadal got on the board in the fourth game, and was stung into action in the sixth game, when a dead let cord seemed set to leave him no chance. But the he hared forward, scooped the ball up, and scampered after Djokovic’s lob volley to spin and fire an unplayable backhand. Signs of life from the Spaniard amid the nerves, which perhaps played their part in an air-shot on a regulation forehand in the next game.
Djokovic eased to the opener but met sterner resistance early in the second, as the match reverted to the patterns of old. Nadal had reached this final behind a one-two punch policy: big serving, bigger forehand. But with Plan A letting him down, he started engaging the Serb in longer rallies.
For a time it worked, until a bullet return from Djokovic at 2-2 drew the error and left Nadal at 15-30. In the next point he was alive to a drop shot but clipped the net with the reply, scrambling to get a racquet to the Serb’s pass but only sending the ball long.
The break followed, as did a second as Djokovic moved clear, breaking for a 2-1 lead in the third. And then, just as soon as the match seemed a foregone conclusion, the Serb netted a forehand to gift Nadal his first break point of the match at 3-2.
The chance came as quickly as it went, Nadal netting a backhand before Djokovic nailed a short forehand into the corner and following up with a winner off the same wing for 4-2. Further pressure followed at 4-3 when Nadal dragged him from corner to corner and drew a forehand error on the run to reach deuce, only for the net cord to play against him once more as Djokovic’s volley for 5-3 fell dead for a winner.
Luck played no part in the final game, however, as Djokovic hit with devastating purity, crushing three forehands to reach match point on the Nadal serve. One passed with a backhand winner, but on the second Nadal fired a backhand wide to bring the contest to a swift conclusion.
Source: Michael Beattie