MELBOURNE – Novak Djokovic said he played his “best final in a Grand Slam” to win a record magnificent seventh Australian Open with a 6-3 6-2 6-3 rout of Rafael Nadal on Sunday.
“It’s one of the best, if not the best, matches I’ve played in a Grand Slam final,” the Serbian World No 1 said after winning his 15th major title in just two hours and four minutes.
The demolition of second seed Nadal put Djokovic, 31, out on his own ahead of Roger Federer and Roy Emerson, who both won six Australian Open men’s singles titles.
The top seed dropped to his knees and kissed the ground after vanquishing his greatest rival.
“It’s quite unreal we are still playing at this level and still competing for the biggest titles in sport, and it’s just an amazing evening,” he said, pausing frequently to hold back his emotions.
“Under the circumstances, maybe this is the best quality tennis I have played against Rafa in a final.
“I’m just trying to contemplate on the journey in the last 12 months. I had the surgery exactly 12 months ago,” he added, referring to an elbow operation that saw him slump out of the world’s top 20, before bouncing back to win Wimbledon and the US Open.
“To be standing now here in front of you today and managing to win this title and three out of four Slams, this is amazing. I am speechless.”
The pair’s only previous final in Australia, in 2012, developed into a record-breaking five-hour and 53-minute slugfest – the longest in Grand Slam history.
A repeat of that epic never materialised, with Nadal uncharacteristically nervous at the start and Djokovic taking an immediate advantage that he would never relinquish.
Djokovic said a fast start had always been his plan.
“(It was) exactly what I intended to do, to step out and bring on the intensity, because I knew there would be intensity waiting for me on the other side.”
The Spaniard had not lost a set and had not had his service broken since the third set of his first-round match, but that streak ended in a flash as the Serb came sprinting out of the blocks.
“I definitely needed a good start. We had both been playing well coming into the match,” said Djokovic.
“I knew I had a good chance if could dictate the play.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 27, 2019
Djokovic was in total control on his own delivery and won his first four service games without conceding a single point, even inducing Nadal to miss a forehand completely on the way to grabbing the set in 36 minutes.
The second set followed a similar pattern, with Djokovic racing through games on his own serve, while Nadal struggled to hold.
The pressure told in the fifth game, and Djokovic broke again when Nadal hit a lob volley long after an exchange at the net.
The on-song Serb was so fired up he broke Nadal again to go to 5-2, before serving out for a two-set lead with three aces in a row with just an hour and 16 minutes on the clock.
The statistics were as telling as the score-line: Djokovic had served eight aces to Nadal’s one, and made just four unforced errors, while the Spaniard had coughed up 20.
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) January 27, 2019
When Djokovic broke again in the third game of the third set, it was just a matter of how quickly he would finish off Nadal.
The end was swift, as Djokovic withstood one break point at 3-2 before administering the last rites in a flurry of winners off both wings.
“Even if tonight was not my best day, of course I had someone that played a lot better than me tonight,” said Nadal.
Victory extended the Serb’s win-loss record against Nadal to 28-25, and squared the Grand Slam final count between the pair at 4-4.
Djokovic has now completed a hat trick of Slams, following his wins at Wimbledon and the US Open.
He will go to Paris in May for the French Open seeking to become the only man in the Open Era to win all four majors twice.