Novak Djokovic's grip on the men's game is tightening, his eyes transfixed on Roger Federer's 20 major title haul, after his annihilation of Rafael Nadal in the final of the Australian Open - capturing an unprecedented seventh title in Melbourne by doing so.
"I am truly speechless", Djokovic told the Melbourne crowd after he won. Passing Federer once seemed achievable, before the slump made it unrealistic; now it again feels possible, if not probable.
Laver indeed is the lone man in the Open Era to sweep to all four, exactly 50 years ago in 1969.
Never before had Nadal lost a grand slam final in straight sets.
"Playing against Nadal, such an important match, it's wonderful", Djokovic, who also thrashed Lucas Pouille in his semi-final, said. He has winning head-to-head records against all three of his fellow Big Four members (with Andy Murray included in that group).
Unfortunately for Federer, the Swiss master couldn't pull off a third Australian Open crown in a row, falling to Greek young gun Stefanos Tsitsipas in a fourth round upset. Nadal will nearly certainly be sharper and stronger physically in a few months and beating the Spaniard in Paris, where he has won 11 titles, is a challenge like no other. The French Open in May will always be front of mind, however. Playing Grand Slams, the biggest ATP events is my utmost priority in this season and in seasons to come, he added. Djokovic took advantage of an inconsistent serving performance in the semifinals from Frenchman Lucas Pouille with his superior return service.
Leading by two sets, he was pegged back to a decider that needed to be completed the day before the final.
The Serbian world number one said he was motivated to "have a shot" at Federer's record but conceded that it was "still far" away.
"Reflecting on what I've been through in the previous year, it's quite a phenomenal achievement", said Djokovic after knocking Nadal from the top spot in November. Both of those seasons also started with Australian Open triumphs. "I know there's a lot of tournaments to play before Roland Garros, so I have plenty of time to build my form slowly", Djokovic said. And their last-and only-match at the Australian Open, back in 2012, lasted just a few minutes short of six hours, a record effort that left both men on their knees, and literally needing seats during the presentation ceremony.
"Nadal has historically throughout my life and career been the greatest rival that I ever played against, on all the surfaces", Djokovic said.
So if Nadal is unable to provide a consistent, year-long challenge, who can stop the Djokovic juggernaut this season?
That loss coupled with the win over Nadal at Wimbledon were likely the two most important contests for him past year.
Then there were his injury woes nearly 12 months ago to the day when the Serbian, about to undergo elbow surgery, was left contemplating his tennis mortality.
"I'm just trying to contemplate the journey in the last 12 months", said Djokovic. "Here, if some of those points go our side, I believe (Nadal) will have the chance to win". "So the first thing I'm going to do is recharge my batteries and obviously then, you know, have time to reflect". "I had the surgery exactly 12 months ago so to be standing in front of you today and to win this title and three out of four Slams is unbelievable".
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