Novak Djokovic in seventh heaven

 - Simon Cambers

Serb crushes Rafael Nadal to win Australian Open for third straight slam title

Novak Djokovic poses with his 2019 Australian Ope,n trophy©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Roll on Roland Garros.

Novak Djokovic secured himself a record seventh Australian Open title as he demolished Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 on Sunday, a win that takes him to 15 grand slams. The world No 1 has won the last three grand slam titles and his win sets up the chance that he can hold all four grand slam titles at the same time for the second time in his career.

The ultimate challenge

To do that, he will need to do it on the clay of Roland Garros, just as he did in 2016, when he completed the career grand slam. He may well have to beat Nadal, too, as the Spaniard regroups in search of a 12th French Open title, but it’s a task he is more than ready to take on.

“It’s just the beginning of the season,” he said. “I know there are a lot of tournaments to play before Roland Garros. I obviously have to work on my clay-court game more specifically. I need to play better than I did last season on clay, specifically, to have a chance and shot at the title.

Novak Djokovic talknin g during his speech at the 2019 Australian Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“The ultimate challenge there is to win against Nadal. But then you have (Dominic) Thiem and (Sascha) Zverev, Roger (Federer) is probably going to play. You have a lot of great players that on clay can challenge me or anybody else.”

He is also now just two grand slam titles behind Nadal and five behind Roger Federer. If five seems a long way off, Djokovic does not turn 32 until May and if he stays healthy, he surely has a chance to get close. Jim Courier, the former world No 1 remarked of Federer’s record of 20: “It’s no longer a sure thing for him.” And Djokovic admits it’s on his mind.

Joy for BNovak Djokovic as he wins the 2019 Australian Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
Djokovic might just take some stopping

“Making history in the sport I truly love is something special and of course it motivates me,” he said. “Playing grand slams and biggest ATP events is the biggest priority for me this season and the seasons to come. I definitely want to focus myself on continuing to improve my game and my well-being, 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. But it’s still far.”

While clay has always been Nadal’s domain, on the evidence of Sunday night at Melbourne Park, Djokovic might just take some stopping. This was the Serb at his very, very best. He made just nine unforced errors in the entire match but it was his aggression, right from the start, which pushed Nadal onto the back foot and into a position he was never able to recover from.

He didn’t drop a point on serve in the first set and only four in the second, attacking the Nadal forehand and drawing the errors. If Nadal was not quite at his best on the night, Djokovic did not allow him the chance to find it. His serve was clinical, his returns pinpoint in their accuracy, consistently landing within inches of the baseline.

Rafael Nadal congratulates Novak Djokovic at the net during 2019 Australian Open final©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
"He was super quick"

Even if Nadal had been at 100 percent, he might not have been able to cope with Djokovic, who was in the zone from the start. “He played fantastic,” Nadal said. “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 was in a defensive position. That's not nerves. That's things that happened quicker than what happened the previous days. I don't like to say he played unbelievable well because looks like you find an excuse for yourself. The real thing is he played so well. He did a lot of things very difficult unbelievable well. He hit so long. His return was fantastic. He was super quick.”

This time last year, Djokovic was struggling with pain from his right elbow, an injury which required surgery. It took him a few months to regain the confidence but winning Wimbledon for a fourth time set him on the path back to the very top. His US Open win was almost a formality and he has now won three on the bounce.

Rafael Nadal misses a ball at the 2019 Australian Open
“It ranks right at the top“

Nadal was proud of his run to the final, having not played since the US Open because of a knee injury and having undergone foot surgery in December. The Spaniard said he was probably lacking a few miles in his legs but is confident he will be at full speed within a couple of months.

“In my opinion, it is all about having the chance to increase that step of intensity,” he said. “Probably I was not able to make that happen tonight. But I have the confidence that I did a lot of things well this tournament. I have the confidence that I will reach this extra level of intensity in the future if I am able to practice well. I believe that I can be ready in a couple of months if I am able to keep practicing and to keep competing at that level.”

Djokovic said it was as good as he’s played in a grand slam final. “It ranks right at the top,” he said. “Under the circumstances, playing against Nadal, such an important match, yeah, I mean, it's amazing. 

“In back-to-back semi-finals and finals, 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, as I said, under the circumstances, it was truly a perfect match.”