Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2019 Australian Open on the men’s side.
A week later, it still feels surreal.
The fact that Novak Djokovic emerged with the 2019 Australian Open title wasn’t exactly surprising. Throughout his career, the Serb has always done excessively well in Melbourne, winning it all a now record seven times, and he had been on an absolute tear since capturing another Wimbledon title last summer.
No, if one player was the odds-on favourite to emerge victorious in Australia, Djokovic was your guy. So surprising to see him escape with the trophy? No, not even close.
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) January 27, 2019
But what is stunning is how easily he disposed of his opponent in the final, Rafael Nadal, by a final score of 6-3, 6-2 and 6-3 that was probably kinder to the Spaniard than the match really was. It was a match that passed the two-hour run time if only because the two playing and competing are notoriously slow and not really because it had been competitive.
Nadal, if you’ll recall, hadn’t played a match since withdrawing in the US Open semifinal last summer but had showed no sign of rust, entering the Australian final without having dropped a single set. Djokovic had been masterful, yes, but Nadal was still Nadal, right?
In finishing his masters-class performance, Djokovic captured 80 per cent of his first serve points, and 84 per cent of his second serve points, all the while showcasing his typical resolve in the return game on the way to breaking Nadal’s serve a whopping five times.
As a result of all that, the 31-year-old completed quite the turnaround over the past 12 months, from being almost incapable of winning two matches in a row in early 2018 (and who was ranked below than none other than Jack Sock) to now holding the three most recent Grand Slam titles.
For his career, he’s now up to 15 majors, two and five respectively behind Nadal and Roger Federer, and for the foreseeable future will profile as the favourite at just about every event he competes—even, yes we’re going there, Roland Garros.
What we are saying, basically, is that the Djoker is creeping up on the leaderboard in most categories; that he’s already well above and beyond anyone in history for career prize money, for one thing.
But that’s not all.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 27, 2019
With every week passing, Djokovic gets closer and closer to Federer’s tally of 310 career weeks spent at No. 1, currently sitting in fifth rank with 236 weeks at the top. He’ll also gain and maybe even surpass Nadal for career Masters titles, not to mention that he’ll gain ground on Jimmy Connors’s 109 overall singles titles over time also.
??Novak Djokovic Slams, Masters, WTFs??
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 27, 2019
Basically, what we are saying is that should things remain this way for another year or two then maybe we should come around to the premise of Djokovic as the best player in men’s tennis history. We know, we know, it’s blasphemous and how dare we insult the great Roger and the great Rafa, and how can Djokovic be the best ever if he’s not even the one with the most Grand Slam titles ever?? Well we don’t hear you saying Nadal is a better career player than Federer even though the head-to-head numbers would suggest so.
This is a matter of perspective and, really, it’s not so much against the Swiss or the Spaniard as it is for the Serb. It’s an argument in favour of him, who more than makes up a little lack of overall numbers in his resume with a better head-to-head record against the two biggest champions of his era.
That Djokovic has more wins than losses when he’s faced against both Federer and Nadal tells us two things. One, that he should be everyone’s preferred choice when there’s a big match.
And two, that Djokovic’s numbers rival the supposed GOATs of the sport, and it’s about time we realize it.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG