The Associated Press
MELBOURNE, Australia–Novak Djokovic was so good, so relentless, so flawless, that Rafael Nadal never stood a chance.
Djokovic reduced one of the greats of the game to merely another out-classed opponent–just a guy, really–and one so out of sorts that Nadal even whiffed on one of his famous forehands entirely.
In a breathtakingly mistake-free performance that yielded a remarkably lopsided result, the No. 1-ranked Djokovic overwhelmed Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 yesterday to win a record seventh Australian Open championship and a third-consecutive Grand Slam title, raising his count to 15 overall.
“Under the circumstances, it was a truly perfect match,” Djokovic said.
No one who saw it would disagree.
“I would describe it as dominance,” said Djokovic’s coach, Marian Vajda.
Nadal’s take? “An amazing level of tennis.”
“Unbelievable,” was how Nadal’s coach, Carlos Moya, called it. “Novak probably could have won, no matter who the opponent was.”
That Djokovic would produce 34 winners and only nine unforced errors was impressive enough. That it came against Nadal–who is ranked No. 2, owns 17 major trophies himself, and hadn’t dropped a set in the tournament–was hard to comprehend.
Djokovic left Nadal smirking or gritting his teeth or punching his racket strings, unable to compete at all.
Here’s how Nadal explained it: to have a chance when Djokovic plays that well, something extra is required.
Given that he’s coming off a series of injuries, given that he hadn’t played since the U.S. Open last September, Nadal couldn’t raise his game.
Then again, Nadal conceded, “When the player did almost everything better than you, you can’t complain much.”
So Djokovic added to previous triumphs in Melbourne in 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2016, along with four titles at Wimbledon, three at the U.S. Open, and one at the French Open.
He broke his tie with Roger Federer and Roy Emerson for most Australian Open men’s titles. He also broke a tie with his idol, Pete Sampras, for third-most Grand Slam trophies.
Djokovic now only trails Federer (with 20) and Nadal.
And he is gaining on them.
Then there’s this tidbit: Djokovic is the only man in tennis history to have a trio of three-straight-Slam streaks.
So let the talk begin about four majors in a row over two seasons–something Djokovic already managed to do from 2015-16.
And, what’s more, about a true Grand Slam, winning all four majors in one calendar year, which only has been done by two men: Donald Budge in 1938 and Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969.
“I am aware that making history of the sport that I truly love is something special,” the 31-year-old Serb said.
“Of course, it motivates me.”
He surprised even himself with the way he recovered after problems with his right elbow derailed him.
Djokovic sat out the last half of 2017. He tried to come back at the start of 2018 but was hampered by the elbow and lost in the fourth round in Melbourne.
Soon after, he decided to have surgery.
All that is in the past and he once again is at an elite level. If anything, the gap between him and the rest is growing right now.
A year ago, could he have envisioned being here now?
“Not impossible but highly unlikely,” he admitted. “I don’t want to sound arrogant but I always believe in myself.
“I think that’s probably the biggest secret of my success.”
Naomi Osaka defeated Petra Kvitova, 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-4 to capture the women’s title.