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‘A perfect match’: Novak’s Melbourne masterclass 

  • Dan Imhoff

Seven-time major champion Mats Wilander described what he just witnessed as absolute perfection.

All-time great Rod Laver took his praise a step further, deeming Novak Djokovic’s game strong enough to emulate his calendar Grand Slam.

The Serb’s demolition of Rafael Nadal to win an unprecedented seventh Australian Open crown on Sunday night gives credence to both men’s declarations.

“It ranks right at the top,” Djokovic said as he compared it to his 14 prior Grand Slam triumphs. 

“Under the circumstances, playing against Nadal, such an important match, it's amazing.

“Obviously back-to-back semifinal and final, 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.

“At this level, as I said, under the circumstances, it was truly a perfect match.”

Djokovic's 15th major saw him pass Pete Sampras for third on the all-time men's list

Departing Melbourne Park last January, underdone and nursing an elbow injury that required surgery immediately after, Djokovic would have thought it implausible the position to which he would have returned 12 months on.

Would he have believed he would stand one major triumph from holding all four Grand Slams at once for the second time in his career?

“Not impossible, but highly unlikely,” Djokovic said. 

“I don't want to sound arrogant, but I always believe in myself. I think that's probably the biggest secret of my success, if I can say, or probably any other athlete, is self-belief, always digging deep in the moments when you're facing adversity, digging those moments of complimenting yourself, visualising yourself as a winner, trying to be in a positive state of mind. 

“It's much easier said than done, obviously.”

An injury-marred exit to Hyeon Chung on Rod Laver Arena 12 months ago was not the most shattering Grand Slam defeat of the season. That came in June, in the Roland Garros quarterfinals where world No.72 Marco Cecchinato sprung the boilover against a confidence-depleted Djokovic.

It was unfathomable to conceive the unbeaten slam streak he was about to commence when he suggested he may skip the entire grass-court swing.

Introspective, in light of his 6-3 6-2 6-3 triumph over Nadal, Djokovic admitted there were grave uncertainties about whether his surgery would even succeed and whether he would rediscover his lofty standing in the game.

“I wasn't playing well, I wasn't feeling good on the court, I was questioning everything,” he said. 

“I was doubting whether I will be able to play everyone on this level, because I didn't know to what extent the operation of my elbow would affect my game.

“It was a huge learning curve for me, just the whole process was very special. I embraced the journey. I am very grateful to go through it. I would never change anything if I could turn back the time, because things are just the way they should be.

“But, yes, 12 months ago it was highly unlikely I would be holding three slams. I just have to be conscious of that and understand that I'm blessed.

The Serb inflicted Nadal’s first straight-sets defeat in a Grand Slam final.

Djokovic became the first man to win seven Australian Open titles and the first man in history to record three streaks of three or more consecutive Grand Slam titles.

He stands to become the second man after Laver in 1969 to hold all four majors at once on two occasions.

Grand Slam trophy No.15 pulls him one clear of his idol Pete Sampras, and just five shy of Roger Federer’s all-time record.

Pressed on how he would live with it if he went on to surpass Federer’s mark, Djokovic could see the light side to the question.

“How do I live with that?” he laughed. “Just fine.”

“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.”

At this rate, maybe not as far as he might be leading on.