King of Melbourne Djokovic determined to be crowned the greatest

World No.1 Novak Djokovic won his ninth Australian Open to close the gap to just two Grand Slams behind his Big Three rivals.

Novak Djokovic Australian Open 2021©Tennis Australia / Morgan Hancock
 - Alex Sharp

After all his sustained success Novak Djokovic still has to “pinch” himself to make sure it’s all reality.

The world No.1 played tennis out of this world to clinch a crucial ninth Australian Open title. 

Ruling his cherished Rod Laver Arena that many times is incredible, but his 18th major has greater consequences beyond the confines of Melbourne Park.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will notice the Serbian is only two Grand Slams behind them in the all-time major leaderboard. The race is back on.

“Each one is different. It's hard to compare. But it has been definitely emotionally the most challenging Grand Slams that I ever had with everything that was happening, injury, off-the-court stuff, quarantines” admitted Djokovic. “It has been a rollercoaster ride in the last four weeks.”

The world No.1 has had to battle through the pain barrier Down Under, tearing an abdominal muscle during the titanic tussle with Taylor Fritz in the third round.

It was so severe that the top seed and his team took a Covid-19 test everyday incase they had to be cleared to fly home the very next day.

However, as the pain subsided more each round, Djokovic’s dominance and level of tennis incrementally rose to his destructive best. 

“When you're a young tennis player, I think 99.9 percent of players, kids that get a racket in their hands, start dreaming about what they want to achieve, it's a Grand Slam. So, I tried to remind myself, pinch myself, of how important this is,” stated the Serbian following his exhibition 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 final flourish against the in red-hot form fourth seed Daniil Medvedev.

“Even though I have been fortunate to win many majors and play in many major finals in my life, I do enjoy the success every single time even more because I know that the longer the time passes, the more difficult it's going to become for me to get my hands on the major trophy because you have new young players coming up that are as hungry as you, maybe even hungrier, and they're coming up and they're challenging me and Roger and Rafa.”

His joint coach Goran Ivanisevic believes Djokovic “needed” this triumph as the catalyst for overhauling the Roger-Rafa duopoly at the top of the men’s major standings.

“I would agree with my coach. Taking back the time to six months ago when we restarted the season, I won Cincinnati tournament in New York, then had that disqualification at the US Open that obviously did affect me mentally, emotionally. Didn't lose a match to that point in the whole year, just feeling great. Of course, it did affect me through the rest of the season,” explained Djokovic after his 28th major final.

“I was kind of up and down with my performances. Managed to clinch the No.1 at the end of the season, which was the goal. Coming to Australia, it always brings that extra dose of confidence.”

There was another goal chalked off the list in Melbourne.

“After achieving the historic No.1 for the longest weeks at No.1, it's going to be a relief for me because I'm going to focus all my attention on slams mostly,” insisted the 33-year-old, due to overtake Federer’s record of 310 weeks at the top of the men’s rankings in early March.

“I'm just trying to marvel in this success and enjoy it as much as I can.”

He can’t rest on his laurels for too long, knowing Roland-Garros will creep up quickly. 

Just two majors behind his fellow ‘Big Three’ rivals, Djokovic is intent on playing longer to maximise his chances of sitting top of the pile.

The Three Knights of Tennis,” joked the word No.1. “I think as long as they go, I'll go. It’s a race who plays tennis more and who wins more. It's a competition between us in all areas. But I think that's the very reason why we are who we are, because we do drive each other, we motivate each other, we push each other to the limit.”

Up to Grand Slam No.18, Djokovic didn’t rule out pursuing the major haul achieved on the women’s side, led by Margaret Court (24) and Serena Williams (23).

“They made a tremendous mark in our sport,” continued the Australian Open champion, with 21 successive wins at Melbourne Park. 

“I'm trying to build that and develop that myself in a very unique, authentic way. Whether I think about winning more slams and breaking records, of course I do. And most of my attention and my energy from this day forward, until I retire from tennis, is going to be directed in trying to win more major trophies.

“I will say that there is a lot of quality in tennis from the younger guys that are coming up. But Roger, Rafa, myself are still there for a reason. We don't want to hand it to them. I think that's something that is very clear. Whether you communicate that message or not, we are definitely sending that vibe out there. I'm sticking to that.”

The way a defiant Djokovic triumphed in Melbourne, the message would have been loud and clear for Medvedev and the rest of the rising young guns.