Written by Tom Kelly
After a period of brief reflection on an Australian Open final which saw Novak Djokovic become the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive titles down under, one begins to comprehend the remarkable performance that occurred. Andy Murray, by far the second best defender currently playing in the Men’s game (behind Djokovic of course), was blown away in the final two sets by a man who seemingly has a gear that no one else can match.
You often hear it said of great sporting genius’ that they possess ‘that extra gear’ which takes them above and beyond the competition. Certainly the big four of the men’s game have such an advantage over the rest as only Juan Martin Del Potro has broken their eight year strangle hold over the Grand Slam titles. Yet Djokovic seems to have that something extra, its appearances may well be fleeting, however it truly is extraordinary.
The biggest challenge that faces any opponent who faces up to the world number one is now surely the mental challenge – how do you beat a man who never accepts that he is beaten? It is a challenge that even Roger Federer has failed to overcome with the 2011 US open semi-final being the prime example. The correct mentality is also incredibly difficult to master during rallies as the sheer brilliance of Djokovic’s defence often forces opponents to go to close to the lines, thus racking up the unforced errors.
If Djokovic does strike top form however, he is unbeatable, no matter how much mental strength one possesses. The first glimpse we saw of such form was the final of the US Open back in 2011. It is a match that has since been overshadowed by the epic nature of their following grand slam meeting, the six hour Melbourne marathon. However the game at Flushing Meadows reached levels in quality that have rarely been seen on a tennis court. Nadal, along with Murray, are the two players that can go toe-to-toe with Djokovic on a normal day in terms of brilliant defence and brutal baseline rallies. The problem for Nadal on that day, was that it was no ‘normal’ day for Djokovic who drove the Spaniard off the court with a post-match highlights real that would better the highlights of most professionals’ careers. (Watch here).
From that moment on, we have seen very little of such form from the Serbian superstar, flashes of brilliance at the World Tour Finals and in Shanghai against Murray were of course present, but it was not until Melbourne last week that we once again saw such quality over two or more sets. The remarkable destruction of David Ferrer in the semi-final was nothing short of stunning; Ferrer may not possess the raw ability to seriously challenge the top four, but what was never previously doubted was his ability to compete against any opponent when out on court. Not on this occasion however as Ferrer was swatted aside 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in under an hour and a half. Three days later, Andy Murray brought his A-game to the table for the first two sets and only Djokovic’s remarkable defiance in the face of adversity kept him from going two sets to love down like he had done at Flushing Meadows just four months ago. However, escaping the second set with honours even, Djokovic stepped up to the level which sees him now stand alone in the world of tennis; in truth, Murray never really stood a chance in the last two sets.
The now four time Australian Open champion is now well and truly on the way to becoming a legend of the sport. After his remarkable 2011 which saw him claim three of the four grand slams available, the Serb has accomplished the even trickier task of maintaining his status as the world’s number one tennis player. Now Djokovic sets his sights on the prize at Roland Garros, the only major title that still eludes him, and who would dare bet against him now?