With history on the line, Novak Djokovic delivered perhaps the signature performance of his career, thrashing longtime rival and well-known star Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 in a swift two hours and four minutes, their shortest head-to head-match in a grand slam. With the win, Djokovic captured his seventh major title down under, breaking a tie with Roger Federer and Roy Emerson for the most Australian Opens won, and pushing past Pete Sampras to third place on the all-time major list with 15, trailing only the aforementioned Nadal with 17 and Federer with 20.
From the opening point of the match to match point, Djokovic was nearly flawless, producing 34 winners to only nine unforced errors. Taking advantage of the early nerves of his longtime rival, Djokovic quickly won the first three games, dropping only one point on serve the entire set. Despite Nadal’s nerves dissipating over the next two sets, he simply had no answers. Nadal’s forehand, arguably one of the most terrifying strokes on tour, misfired at key times throughout the night and was unable to sustain the constant barrage of Djokovic backhands both down the line and cross court.
By taking Nadal’s groundstrokes at the peak of the bounce, Djokovic was able to play the aggressor, punishing Nadal for even the most tiny of mistakes on which no other player on tour could capitalize. Djokovic also benefited heavily from his new-and-improved serve, hitting eight aces to zero double faults en route to winning forty of his fifty service points, and facing only one break point the en- tire match.
After Nadal’s final backhand of the match sailed long on championship point, he could only stare across the net in disbelief as a jubilant Djokovic raised his arms in triumph.
One year ago, this scene would have seemed improbable if not downright impossible. After struggling mightily in the first half of the 2018 season, as he was recovering from a serious elbow injury, many wondered if we had seen the last of peak-form Novak Djokovic. After returning to longtime coach Marian Vajda, Djokovic finally turned his career back around, proceeding to win both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open as well as finishing the year with a record of 38-4 and reclaimed his world no.1 ranking.
Speaking in his post-match interview on court, clutching the Norman Brooks Challenge Cup, Djokovic gave the crowd in Melbourne, and across the world, an insight as to how tough this remarkable comeback had been. Struggling to find the right words at first, Djokovic was overcome with emotion: “Sorry I am just trying to contemplate on the journey these last 12 months. I had the surgery exactly 12 months ago, and to be stand- ing now here in front of you today and managing to win this title and three out of four slams is just truly amazing, I’m speechless,” he said.
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