MELBOURNE, Australia — The first degree of the Australian Open males’s final on Sunday suggested the story of all that was to return again.
With his opening serve, Novak Djokovic stretched Rafael Nadal broad, sending the Spaniard sprawling. Djokovic quickly had his longtime rival exactly the place he wished: off steadiness and unglued.
In a flash, as Nadal spun 360 ranges and scrambled to get higher, Djokovic took a half-dozen assured steps forward. He lined up a backhand, after which unleashed a buzzing winner that Nadal did not even try for.
Point obtained. Point made. Rafael Nadal: toast.
The match, held at Rod Laver Arena on a warmth and barely breezy night time, accomplished merely 2 hours 4 minutes later, Djokovic worthwhile in a full-blown knockout, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.
This was a win that tightened the 31-year-old Serbian’s preserve on the best spot in males’s tennis. It moreover boosted his determine as quickly as as soon as extra in the annals of tennis historic previous. He now has a file seven Australian Open titles and has moved to sole possession of third place for foremost titles, with 15, breaking a tie with Pete Sampras.
The three powerhouse items had been as top quality and dominating as Djokovic — or anyone — has ever carried out in a severe match final.
“It ranks right at the top,” Djokovic said, assessing his effectivity at a info conference. “At this level, under these circumstances, it was truly a perfect match.”
He could not have seen this coming. Nobody may.
Djokovic versus Nadal, No. 1 vs. No. 2, was arguably most likely probably the most anticipated match of the match. It was the first occasion in which these two tense rivals — who’ve now carried out 53 situations on tour, with Djokovic worthwhile 28 — have met in the finals of a Grand Slam event since 2014, when Nadal slipped by Djokovic in 4 items at Roland Garros in Paris.
Given the scintillating method every had carried out all match, with Nadal worthwhile every set he had carried out in his first six matches, and with Djokovic worthwhile all nonetheless a pair, it appeared certain that they’d duel as quickly as as soon as extra deep into the Melbourne night time time.
It was a match that was anticipated to mud off hallowed reminiscences of what might have been their largest combined second of glory. In 2012, the 2 carried out most likely probably the most epic finals in Grand Slam historic previous, correct proper right here on the sea-blue center courtroom: a 5-hour 53-minute marathon obtained by Djokovic, the longest foremost final ever.
But a reprise was to not be. What unfolded wasn’t even a reasonable facsimile.
Still, the night time time had its private method of being unforgettable. The final failed to provide drama, however it did present magnificence — that of a top-flight athlete, amongst tennis’s largest champions, engaged on the very peak of his powers.
“Things started so quick,” Nadal said, snapping his fingers twice to stress the aim. “He was pushing me to every ball. He played so well. He hit so long. His return was fantastic. He was super quick.”
Nadal, 32, did not appear considerably downcast after the match. Instead it appeared as if he had merely resigned himself to the result. He well-known that he had been injured and had not been able to put collectively for the match as he had wished. Indeed, after pulling out of his semifinal match on the United States Open remaining September, then having ankle surgical process, he had not carried out a match on tour until this match began.
But he moreover allowed that there was nothing he may truly do on Sunday in the direction of Djokovic, saying it “was unbelievable, the way in which in which that he carried out, little doubt about that.’’
Djokovic made solely 9 unforced errors. He misplaced just one degree on his serve in the first set. He aggressively shortened every rally he may, preserving them to a median of 5 footage, a stunningly low amount considering the long-distance finals he and Nadal have slugged out in the earlier. Riding pinpoint accuracy and depth, he so flummoxed Nadal that the Spaniard as quickly as swung and whiffed on a forehand.
Nadal, whose tally for foremost titles stays at 17, three behind Roger Federer’s file, threw all he may muster on the match, significantly as a result of it drained from his grip. He labored in as many drop footage as he may. He altered positioning on his returns. He moved early, trying to guess which method Djokovic was serving.
Djokovic led early in every stanza and in no way appeared once more. There was no rigidity. The match was shorter by 23 minutes than Saturday’s stirring ladies’s final between Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova, which moreover unfolded in three items and was blessed by rigidity at every flip.
“For me, probably the most vital aims for the match was to begin off effectively and produce the depth and ensure that he additionally feels my presence,” said Djokovic, who appeared remarkably calm and centered, every in the course of the match and afterward. “He always makes sure that the opponent all through the net feels his presence. That is how he performs. That’s how he behaves. He brings lots energy, leaping spherical, sprinting.
“It was essential for me to begin off with an early break. Having a set below my belt simply made me loosen up a bit extra, probably not fear an excessive amount of. After that, it was clean.”
Smooth. Perfect summary.
It was a unusual lopsided Grand Slam final between males’s tennis greats, paying homage to Nadal’s wipeout of Federer on the 2008 French Open and John McEnroe’s rout of Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon in 1984.
But it should not be forgotten how far the 2 acquired right here to get to the finals, the hurdles overcome. There is Nadal and his accidents, which have piled up over time, significantly on onerous courts. There is Djokovic and the way in which in which he struggled collectively together with his confidence and his effectively being after worthwhile the French Open in 2016. For two full tennis seasons, it felt as if he was misplaced in the wilderness, along with all through a fourth-round loss at Melbourne Park remaining yr to the unseeded South Korean Hyeon Chung.
Djokovic underwent elbow surgical process not prolonged after that match. At first, the operation didn’t help his on-court outcomes. He appeared to be a doubting and unhappy shadow of his self. Improbably, he found his sport on the Wimbledon grass, worthwhile the title there after which following that up with one different champions on the U.S. Open in September.
According to the International Tennis Federation, Djokovic is the first man to file three streaks of three or additional Grand Slam titles in a row. He obtained 4 straight from Wimbledon in 2015 to the 2016 French Open, and three in a row from Wimbledon in 2011 to the 2012 Australian Open.
His chance to hold all 4 foremost titles on the equivalent time will come in 4 months on the French Open, which he has obtained solely as quickly as (Nadal has been the champion at Roland Garros 11 situations).
Sustain this diploma by way of the United States Open, and it isn’t unimaginable to consider him worthwhile a calendar-year Grand Slam. No man has carried out that since Rod Laver in 1969.
And what about reaching Federer’s file 20 Grand Slam titles?
Asked about these milestones on Sunday, Djokovic was his generally reflective self.
“I am aware that making history of the sport that I truly love is something special,” he said.
He then gave a nod to the kind of uncertainty that he’s conscious of very successfully, first- hand: the way in which in which accidents and the insecurity can shake the simplest of foundations. There are not any sure bets.
“How many seasons are to come? I don’t know,” he added, noting that he was trying onerous to not get too far ahead of himself. “I do want to positively focus myself on persevering with to boost so I is perhaps able to compete at such a extreme diploma for the years to return again — and have a shot at finally getting nearer to Roger’s file.
“It’s nonetheless far.”
True, however when he retains participating in in the fluid, focused method he did on this Sunday night time in Melbourne, 20 Grand Slams will come into focus rapidly ample.