The clash between two of the Titans of the modern game to settle the Australian Open title proved a bit of a disappointment as it certainly didn’t match their near six-hour epic of 2012, the year they last met in the Melbourne final.
Then Novak Djokovic edged the title. This year he dominated Rafa Nadal to grab the Norman Brookes trophy in just two-hours and 4-minutes, 6-3 6-2 6-3.
Expectations were built up over the previous 48-hours and were extremely high when they walked on court only for the packed Rod Laver Arena to be stunned by the developments on court, right in front of their eyes.
Chasing a record breaking seventh title, Djokovic took full advantage of an uncharacteristically nervous Nadal, overwhelming him with his serve and stringing together winners at will.
In contrast, the usually coordinated Nadal was unable to find his range with his ground strokes. In fact none of his trademark shots were able to find their mark. Drop shots fell short and his serve was under constant pressure from the opening moment
Djokovic strode into a 3-0 lead during which time Nadal won just one point.
His tweaked service action which had provided him with success during his previous 6 matches and hadn’t been broken since the third set of the opening round, was not working against the Serbian world number one.
In addition, Djokovic’s dexterity, elasticity and speed about the court maintained pressure on the Spaniard who seemingly couldn’t put into action any plan to counter the aggression and positive play coming from his opponent.
The first set was completed in just 36-minutes, and the second followed a similar pattern but with Nadal dropping his serve twice, the second time when he hit a lob volley long after an exchange at the net.
To this point Djokovic had conceded only two points on serve in the entire match, but Nadal had his first opportunity at breaking when he got ahead 30-15 and deuce, twice, in the next game.
It was the first time that Nadal had been able to apply any pressure, but Djokovic held his nerve and then promptly broke Nadal in the next game for 5-2 before serving out for a two-set lead firing three consecutive aces ito complete the second set in 39-minutes.
By now Nadal was looking a bit exasperated and the writing was on the wall when he was broken for the fourth time in the match in the third game of the third set.
And it wasn’t long before Djokovic was celebrating in the middle of the court as he extended his record over Nadal to 28 wins against 25 and improved his grand slam tally to 15, two behind Nadal and five behind Roger Federer.
With that win, Djokovic just needs to win the next major to complete his second career grand slam. However, he might find that a tougher nut to crack with Nadal defending his title at Roland Garros in May.
“It has been a very emotional two weeks,” Nadal said on receiving his runners-up plate from Ivan Lendl.
“Even if tonight was not my best day of course I had someone that played a lot better than me tonight,” the 32-year-old Nadal, who had surgery during the off-season on the ankle injury that ruled him out since September, continued.
“I have been going through tough moments during the last year … since the US Open, I was not able to play a professional match until the first round of the Australian Open.
“Even if tonight was not my night, for me it is so important to be where I am today.
“Coming back from injury I really believe … I played great two weeks of tennis. That’s going to be a good inspiration for myself for what’s coming.”
Unfortunately it was Nadal’s fourth-straight loss when he has reached the Australian Open final but pledged to stop the run.
“This tournament has been tough for me in terms of injuries and in times in terms of opponents, like tonight,” he added. “I’m going to keep fighting, keep practising, keep putting (together) all the things … to give myself better chances in the future.”
Djokovic had to compose himself when he approached the microphone clutching the trophy.
“I’m just trying to contemplate on the journey in the last 12 months,” he said trying to contain his emotions. “I had the surgery exactly 12 months ago. To be standing now here in front of you today and managing to win this title and three out of four slams, this is amazing. I am speechless.”