When Roger Federer dominated men’s tennis a decade ago, few would have predicted that another player would come along in the same era and replicate the Swiss’ achievements.But Novak Djokovic is doing just that.
One could make the point, too, that he is even surpassing Federer’s halcyon spells of 2006 and 2007.
Indeed, Djokovic is a notch above his nearest rivals and he drummed that home Sunday by cruising past Andy Murray 6-1 7-5 7-6 (7-3) in the Australian Open final.
The milestones keep piling up for the Serb: He became the first man in the Open Era to collect six Australian Open titles and moved into a tie for fifth on the men’s grand slam ladder with Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver in tallying his 11th major. Laver watched Sunday’s proceedings in the stadium named after him.
There will be those who will point to 2011 and 2012, when Djokovic won three grand slams five years ago, began the ensuing campaign with another success Down Under but then faltered at the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open.
The Djokovic of today is a superior player and his recent record against the top-10 proves it — a remarkable 50-6 in his last 56 encounters. He has won 11 of his last 12 against Murray, nine of his last 10 against Rafael Nadal and six of his last eight against Federer, including Thursday’s semifinal at the Australian Open when Djokovic ruthlessly dispatched the 17-time grand slam champion.
“No doubt that I’m playing the best tennis of my life in the last 15 months,” said Djokovic.
Added the married father of a 15-month-old son, Stefan: “Everything is going well privately, as well. I feel like I’m at the point in my life where everything is working in harmony.”
Thus onlookers are justifiably calling Djokovic invincible; the man himself isn’t getting carried away.
“I don’t want to allow myself to be in that frame of mind,” he said. “Because if I do, the person becomes too arrogant and thinks that he’s a higher being or better than everybody else. You can get a big slap from karma very soon.”
The lone threat for Djokovic at the sport’s four crown jewels lately is Stan Wawrinka — he deprived the Belgrade native of a calendar year grand slam at Roland Garros, the lone major to elude the world No. 1.
Laver was the last man to achieve the calendar year grand slam in 1969 but one veteran commentator thinks Djokovic can do it this season.
“At the start of this year, I’ve never felt so strongly in the years that I’ve been commentating that a guy can win all four majors, like I’m feeling this year,” Robbie Koenig, a former pro from South Africa, told CNN. “And I think he’s got the extra incentive of winning the French Open.”
Murray has transformed the fortunes of British tennis but he made unwanted history following his latest reverse to Djokovic, becoming only the second player to lose a grand slam final at the same major five times. The other man was Murray’s influential former coach Ivan Lendl.
Lendl, though, can at least say he didn’t go without silverware at Flushing Meadows, bagging three titles.
Of Murray’s five losses in the final, Djokovic has been on the other side of the net on four occasions.
The fortnight has certainly taken a toll on Murray, both mentally and physically, so the second seed may not have been able to produce his best.
He entered the event knowing his wife Kim Sears was eight months pregnant with their first child and then his father-in-law Nigel Sears — who coaches women’s player Ana Ivanovic — collapsed while Murray competed on an adjacent court a week ago. Thankfully Sears was well enough to return to the UK.
Murray considered pulling out of the year’s first major but stuck it out.
He endured draining encounters against David Ferrer in the quarterfinals and Milos Raonic in the semis Friday.
“A lot’s been going on,” Murray said. “I started the last couple of matches quite slowly, understandable in some respects.
“But I’m proud of the way I fought and managed to get myself back into the” final and “create chances for myself.”
Normally taking at least an hour to attend his briefing with reporters, Murray hurried into his press conference because he had a plane to catch Monday at 1 a.m. Melbourne time.
“I’m proud that I got into this position,” he said. “Just quite looking forward to getting home now.”
Players who have contested the second semifinal, on the Friday, not Thursday, in Melbourne had actually won five of the previous eight finals but in this case the extra day off for Murray would have, one senses, benefited him greatly.
“Obviously when you get into these stages of tournaments you want to have as much gas in the tank as possible,” said Koenig. “I don’t think we can ever comprehend or understand how much pressure these guys are under to perform as it is.
“Then for Andy to have to deal with all the other stuff, it was always going to be a big ask. In fact, I thought Andy was going to be lucky to get a set.”
Djokovic needed a mere 20 minutes to dispatch Federer in the first set Thursday and he picked up where he left off, taking 30 minutes to give Murray the worst possible start.
By that time, Djokovic’s fourth-round struggle against Gilles Simon, when he was stretched to five sets and made 100 unforced errors, turned into a distant memory.
Mind you Murray had his opportunity in the first game, setting up a break point. Djokovic erased it with a stunning cross-court backhand.
It, perhaps, set the tone for the set, if not the match.
“Andy doesn’t break and it’s a double whammy because he gets broken straight away in the next game,” said Koenig.
The second was an absorbing 80-minute duel.
Murray, a counter-puncher, altered his normally cautious approach by letting rip on his ground strokes, especially on his stronger backhand side. Murray’s forehand has never been in the same class as Djokovic, Nadal and Federer and it fell well short when it mattered most. Overall he struck eight forehand winners to go along with 28 unforced errors.
“I think I didn’t hit my forehand particularly well at the beginning of the match,” said Murray.
He was always hanging on in the second, facing break points in four different games against the game’s top returner. Call it somewhat ironic, since Murray actually produced an impressive nine aces in the set.
A fine backhand cross-court passing shot put Djokovic on the front foot in the third game, the most compelling of the evening. Lasting 11 minutes, Murray summoned the energy to fight off four break points and keep it close.
When Djokovic grabbed a break for 4-3, the affair had the feel of being realistically over.
Murray, though, continuing to crunch his backhand, broke straight back for some suspense.
Dropping serve from 40-0 in a close set, and in a final, can be demoralizing and that’s what happened to Murray at 5-5.
Still, a nervous Djokovic hit consecutive double faults to give Murray a break back point in the 12th game. Murray netted a backhand after not electing to challenge Djokovic’s serve — which replays showed was long.
There was no way back for Murray, although give credit to the two-time grand slam champion for not surrendering, especially after falling behind 2-0.
To the crowd’s delight, Murray got back to 3-3.
A pair of double faults in the tiebreak sealed his fate and Djokovic closed out the contest in two hours, 53 minutes with an ace.
He kissed the court and exchanged hugs with his entourage, including his coach Boris Becker, who was nearly in tears.
“I’ve had a love affair with Rod Laver Arena for many years and I hope it can last a long time,” said Djokovic, who was later feted by dozens of his fans in the main square outside the arena.
The Murray brothers did win one title at the Australian Open, with Jamie teaming up with Bruno Soares to clinch the doubles title Saturday.
Djokovic, meanwhile, matched the amateur record of six Australian Open titles won by Roy Emerson in the 1960s, and his haul at majors shows no sign of subsiding.