Their last match had been a five-and-quarter-hour marathon in the Wimbledon semis last July. 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.
Both those battles were won by Djokovic, as had eight of their last 10 matches and, more pertinent still, all their hard-court encounters since Nadal won the US Open title in 2013—seven in a row.
Now Djokovic, No1 in the world, was on a hot streak of form dating back to last summer, since when he had lost only four matches for 39 wins—and claimed the titles at Wimbledon, the US Open, Cincinnati and Shanghai—but even so, few expected his latest contest with Nadal to be so swift.
But it would become their briefest Major match, barely two hours long, a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 trouncing, emphasised all the more by the final statistics, which were all in Djokovic’s favour—more winners, break points, net points, receiving points and a higher serving percentage.
It was a performance that took the mighty Serb beyond the Pete Sampras score of 14 Major titles, third only to Nadal (17) and Roger Federer (20). Djokovic also outstripped Federer and Roy Emerson in Australian titles, up to a record seven. And perhaps most significant of these new milestones, he became the first man to win three consecutive Majors for the third time in his career: He also did it in 2011-12, and in 2015-16.
Little wonder, then, that his final appearance, in his final press conference at Melbourne Park, radiated pride, and not a little optimism for what lay ahead this season and beyond. Here is a selection from that concluding conference.
“It ranks right at the top. Under the circumstances, playing against Nadal, such an important match, it’s amazing. In semi-finals 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, visualise myself playing this way. At this level, under the circumstances, it was truly a perfect match.”
“When I was starting to play, one of the first images of tennis was him playing Wimbledon, winning I think his first title back in ’92…To surpass him with Grand Slam titles, I’m speechless.”
“Playing Grand Slams, biggest ATP events, is my utmost priority in this season and in seasons to come… I’m not trying to think too much in advance. I do want to definitely focus 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.”
“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I always believe in myself. I think that’s probably the biggest secret of my success, or probably any other athlete, is self-belief, always digging deep in the moments when you’re facing adversity, visualising yourself as a winner, trying to be in a positive state of mind. It’s much easier said than done, obviously.
“I’m a true believer in visualisation. I do that a lot. I think that I had to do that more than ever 12 months ago after the surgery because I wasn’t playing well, I wasn’t feeling good on the court, I was questioning everything, 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 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.”
“Well, to be honest, I was always hungry for success. If I am not, then… it would be probably a waste of time. It’s not only about success. For me, this is a school of life or a learning journey of life for me. The tennis court is a place where I’m naked, where I’m exposed to both my extremes in terms of emotions and character. That’s where I probably learn the most about myself, or have the opportunity to learn about myself.
“Hunger is always there, but nowadays it’s just more relevant for me to organise myself in life better, to manage to be very concise and concrete with what I do and what I plan to do because I am a father and a husband. Right now, it’s not only about tennis. That’s why I think professionalism is at its peak, probably more than ever in my career.”
View this post on Instagram
Wow guys we did it 🏆 #TeamDjokovic #AusOpen #15 @vajdamarian @uli.physio @gebhardgritsch #miljan #ele #edo @jelenadjokovicndf There aren’t enough words to express my gratitude for this group of people – we couldn’t have imagined a better way to celebrate the 1 year anniversary of my surgery. And to all of my #NoleFam around the world that has shown unconditional support, I share this win, this trophy, and my ❤️ with all of you. Very Blessed to have experienced these wonderful moments and spread love through tennis. Never. Stop. Believing. 🎾🙏
“[Rod Laver] is the only one that has managed to do the impossible challenge, probably the ultimate challenge of the tennis. We’ll see. Obviously it’s just the beginning of the season. I know there’s a lot of tournaments to play before Roland Garros, so I have plenty of time to build my form slowly.
“Obviously I have to work on my clay court game a bit more, more specifically than I have in the last season… I am already playing better, but I mean clay specifically in order to have a chance and shot at the title. The ultimate challenge there is to win against Nadal. Then you have [Dominic] Thiem and [Alexander Zverev], Roger is probably going to play. You have a lot of great players that on clay can challenge me or anybody else.
“Yeah, there is still a lot of time. I’m obviously first going to enjoy this victory and share it with my family and friends—then take it from there.”
MORE: The latest football news
MORE: The latest tennis news
BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge