Billed as another epic between two tennis greats and longtime rivals, the much-hyped 53rd meeting between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was over about 10 minutes into the match.
Djokovic came out supremely focused and in full flight winning 12 of the first 13 points over a shell-shocked Nadal who simply was outclassed and overmatched on the final night of the 2019 Australian Open.
The Serb handed Nadal one of the worst losses of his career, in a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 drubbing. And it wasn’t even that close.
“It ranks right at the top,” said Djokovic. “Under the circumstances, playing against Nadal, such an important match, I mean, it’s amazing. Obviously back-to-back semi-finals and final, I think I made 15 unforced errors in total in two matches. It’s quite pleasantly surprising to myself, as well, even though I always believe I can play this way, visualize myself playing this way.
“At this level,” he said. “It was truly a perfect match.”
Djokovic was hardly challenged in the brisk 2 hour, 4 minute match. Nadal had the new serve on display all event but it didn’t make a dent. Djokovic was simply better dropping just one point on his won delivery in the opening set, and he surrendered just three in total on his second serve in the entire match.
Djokovic also controlled the rallies in stunning fashion, attacking and damaging Nadal’s vaunted forehand early and often. Staying in the court and hitting angles with depth to the Nadal forehand which got the Spaniard on his heels and out of position. Early on, it was clear there was no place Nadal could hit to make the Serb feel any pressure.
Down 3-0 in a blink, the match was effectively over. He has now won 17 straight sets and 8 consecutive matches against Nadal on hard courts.
“I mean starting off well in the match. Coming off from the blocks with the right intensity and trying to be aggressive and protect the line and make him feel pressure from my side, obviously that was the game plan,” Djokovic said. “I managed to get a crucial break already in the second game, get 3-Love in under 10 minutes. That was really, really important because Nadal always brings huge intensity to the court, 100 per cent of his focus and determination.”
Djokovic finished with 34 winners, just 9 unforced and 16/18 at the net, and that comes off an equally flawless performance Friday night against Lucas Pouille.
Nadal, who hadn’t lost a set in the in the tournament, was left helpless. Nothing was working, either from the serve or surprisingly from the ground.
“He played I think fantastic,” Nadal said afterward. “At the same time is true that when he’s playing that way, I think I needed something else. I was not able to have that extra thing tonight.
“Yeah, was unbelievable the way that he played, no doubt about that. But at the same time is true that probably physically I was not able. I played fantastic tennis during both weeks, is true, but probably playing that well, I didn’t suffer much during the both weeks. Five months without competing, having that big challenge in front of me, I needed something else. That something else probably today, I don’t have it yet. That’s my feeling, to compete at this super high level.”
Pressured by Djokovic, Nadal’s forehand which produced a slew of winners en route to his fifth Australian Open, was malfunctioning. And his backhand also lacked bite.
“I make more mistakes because he pushed more. That’s all,” Nadal added. “But the things started so quick. He was pushing me to every ball.
“What on other days have been a serve and a ball that I can have in offensive position, today have been in defensive position.”
The win moves Djokovic to 15 career Grand Slams, one ahead of Pete Sampras and just two behind Nadal. His seven Australian Open titles are a record for any man. And he’s now won his last three Slams taking 21 straight matches, winning all three finals in straight sets.
“It was definitely a sign of destiny to start playing tennis, to aspire to be as good as Pete,” Djokovic said. “To surpass him with Grand Slam titles, I’m speechless.”
He’s the first player to win three straight Slam three times and he’ll eye a second “Nole Slam” and Career Slam in Paris.
“I am aware that making history of the sport that I truly love is something special,” added Djokovic. “Of course, it motivates me. Playing Grand Slams, biggest ATP events, is my utmost priority in this season and in seasons to come. How many seasons are to come? I don’t know. I’m not trying to think too much advance.
“I do want to definitely focus myself on continuing to improve my game and maintaining the overall well-being that I have mental, physical, emotional, so I would be able to compete at such a high level for the years to come, and have a shot at eventually getting closer to Roger’s record. It’s still far.”
It’s an incredible achievement for a man who a year ago left Melbourne with a big concern about his elbow and health, and went just 6-6 in his first 12 matches of the year.
“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I always believe in myself,” he said. “I think that’s probably the biggest secret of my success, if I can say, or probably any other athlete, is self-belief, always digging deep in the moments when you’re facing adversity, digging those moments of complimenting yourself, visualizing yourself as a winner, trying to be in a positive state of mind. It’s much easier said than done obviously.
“12 months ago it was highly unlikely I would be holding three slams. I just have to be conscious of that and understand that I’m blessed.”
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