NOVAK DJOKOVIC says he has his sights set on Roger Federer’s all-time grand slam record after sweeping aside Rafael Nadal to win a seventh Australian Open title.
The 6-3 6-2 6-3 victory gave the world No 1 the outright men’s record for titles at Melbourne Park, taking him beyond Federer and Roy Emerson, and took his overall tally to 15, five behind the Swiss.
Djokovic said: “I am aware that making history of the sport that I truly love is something special. Of course it motivates me. How many seasons are to come? I don’t know. I’m not trying to think too much in advance.
“I do want to definitely focus myself on continuing to improve my game and maintaining the overall well-being that I have –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. It’s still far.”
Djokovic said he had felt “divine” during a semi-final victory over Lucas Pouille in which he lost only four games, and this was another other-worldly performance. That the man on the other side of the net was Nadal, a player he had faced 52 times previously and lost to on 25 of those occasions, made this far more extraordinary.
The fans packed into Rod Laver Arena had come expecting an epic to match their 2012 final, which Djokovic won in five sets after nearly six hours, but instead they witnessed the most dominant slam final victory of the Serbian’s career.
Djokovic is the only player who has been able to turn Nadal’s forehand into a weakness, and he went straight after it, losing just one point in the first three games, and only one point on serve in the opening set.
Nadal simply could not get a foothold in the match, his game too full of errors whenever he did get a rare opportunity, and Djokovic wrapped up victory after just two hours and four minutes.
The victor said of his display: “It ranks right at the top. Playing against Nadal, such an important match, it’s amazing.
“Obviously 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, even though I always believe I can play this way. Under the circumstances, it was truly a perfect match.”
Nadal has now not so much as won a set against Djokovic in eight successive matches on hard courts dating back more than five years.
The Spaniard was full of praise for his opponent, but felt the five months he spent away from the match court from the US Open until this tournament – first with knee and abdominal problems, then ankle surgery and finally a minor thigh strain – meant he lacked the defensive resilience required.
“It was unbelievable the way that he played, no doubt about that,” said Nadal, who is now only two slam titles ahead of Djokovic.
“I played fantastic tennis during both weeks, but, probably, playing that well I didn’t suffer much during both weeks. Five months without competing, having that big challenge in front of me, I needed something else. That something else probably I don’t have it yet, to compete at this super high level.
“If we analyse all this stuff it has been probably a better-than-impossible two weeks for me, even if [the final] was not my day. But I believe that I can be ready in a couple of months if I am able to keep practising and to keep competing at that level.”
Twelve months ago Djokovic had gone nearly two years without a slam title and was forced to undergo elbow surgery to cure a long-standing problem.
Now he is the first man to win three consecutive slam titles on three separate occasions and will attempt to emulate his 2016 success by claiming a second crown at the French Open in June to hold all four.
To do that, he will probably have to get past Nadal on clay, an altogether different challenge.
“I don’t want to say I figured him out because I don’t want that to bounce back at me in any way in the future,” said Djokovic.
“I might have figured him out for the match, but not for life.”