After Rafael Nadal was slowed down by Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, the 20-year-old stunner described Nadal's game as "a completely different dimension of tennis". Nadal had torn off Tsitsipas in straight sets, just as he had demolished each of his five previous opponents in straight sets. What Tsitsipas probably did not imagine was Nadal three days later and looked the same in the Australian Open final. When Tsitsipas engaged in two-dimensional tennis on Thursday, Novak Djokovic played the final on Sunday in four dimensions.
It took Djokovic only two hours and four minutes to crush Nadal and hit him 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 to win his seventh Australian Open. Nadal does not lose any of these games, especially after playing faultless tennis to reach the final ̵
Djokovic reached a new level on Sunday, not only confirming that he is the best player in the world, but also that he may be playing the best tennis of his career. His current form even competes with his peak in 2015 and early 2016, one of the most dominant runs in men's tennis history, when he almost won the Grand Slam calendar and held all four major titles simultaneously.
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Djokovic controlled all facets of the game from the first litter. Nadal's serve, which was upgraded after a motion tweak in this off-season, was not an opponent for one of the game's great returnees, who clearly saw the ball. Djokovic broke Nadal in his first serve and eventually won 49% of Nadal's first serve points. That's an amazing statistic. Djokovic meanwhile won his first 16 points on the serve and saw his first and only chance he could save in the third set. He was content to play from the baseline and hit Nadal with powerful and accurate ground shots, but he was just as effective as he came forward and won 16 out of 18 net points. In two sentences he even used a few bizarre, rather unnecessary drop-shots – not to play with Nadal, one would think, but only because he could. Like everything Djokovic tried on Sunday, it worked.
Nadal, who had never lost a straight slam final in straight sets before Sunday, looked dizzy and out of balance like a boxer helplessly caught on the ropes. He looked unusually nervous and missed several routine shots. Djokovic was now machine-like, slapping the winners with ease at impossible angles and rarely failing. The final count: 21 winners and 28 non-enforced bugs for Nadal; 34 winners and nine unforeseen mistakes for Djokovic. Djokovic won 80% of the points on the first serve and a staggering 84% on the second serve, while Nadal won only 51% and 64%. It was like Nadal playing on gravel while Djokovic was flying in the air. "If someone does anything better than you, you can not complain," said Nadal after the game.
The result was one of the loneliest Grand Slam games ever to take place between members of the Big 3. They were surpassed only by Nadal's 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 win over Roger Federer in 2008 at Roland Garros. Less than a year ago, Djokovic fell to Marco Cecchinato in the French Open quarter-finals and extended his break-in to two years. Since then, he has won 21 grand slam matches in a row, including all nine final sets.
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With his 15th league title, Djokovic took third place on the all-time list, passing by Pete Sampras. He now only follows Federer (20) and Nadal (17). Past Federer it seemed possible before the break-in became unrealistic. Now it feels possible again, though not likely. Despite this deficit, Djokovic already has one case as the biggest ever: He is the only male player to win all nine championship titles, and he has won 15 majors and 73 career titles, despite having played his entire career against two other GOAT candidates. If he wins the French Open – Nadal remains the favorite, but Djokovic's prospects are suddenly much rosier – he will hold all four major titles at the same time for the second time, something Nadal and Federer have not even achieved.
It's easy to respond to an extraordinary performance. Although Djokovic played his best tennis on Sunday, a few days ago he barely looked against Daniil Medvedev, who had made 50 mistakes in the game alone. Tennis can turn fast, as Djokovic should know it better than anyone else. However, his triumph at the Australian Open suggests that what used to seem impossible to hold all four majors for the second time at a time, winning the Grand Slam calendar and presenting a serious case as GOAT, now seems plausible. As Nadal discovered on Sunday, Novak Djokovic is the only player who can stop Novak Djokovic at the moment.