World No. 2 Novak Djokovic arrives in Melbourne for the Australian Open fresh off leading Team Serbia to the inaugural ATP Cup. Not only will that give him plenty of confidence, but Djokovic says that the last match he played at the season’s first Grand Slam was perhaps his best.
“That was probably the best performance I had in [the] final of a Grand Slam in my career,” Djokovic said ahead of this year’s draw. “I had some thrilling, exciting matches. Probably the two most epic matches that I was part of were the final against Rafa here in 2012 that almost went six hours, the record of the longest ever final in history. And then against Roger last year in Wimbledon, obviously another five-set thriller.
“But in terms of performance and quality of tennis, last year’s final against Rafa was probably the best one I had. Rafa was in great form, he hadn’t dropped a set the entire tournament and the way I played was just amazing. I was very proud and obviously I’ve been trying to remember that and trying to relive those memories. It’s one of those days where everything just works perfectly. You’re in the flow and you’re just playing your best.”
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Success in Melbourne wasn’t new to Djokovic before that match, as beating Nadal gave him his seventh Australian Open title. But Nadal allowed only two of his first 18 sets of the tournament to go past 6-4, seemingly setting up for a titanic showdown against the Serbian.
“I could feel already lots of confidence after the quarters and semis, especially, playing against Lucas Pouille, who was in form [in the semis]. I played tremendously well in the semi-finals and I felt that confidence boost prior to the finals,” Djokovic said. “I thought, ‘Well, regardless of the fact that Rafa is playing some of his best tennis on hard courts, I still feel that I have a really good chance the way I’ve been feeling on the court and playing in the past couple of matches of the tournament.’”
Djokovic saved the only break point he faced against Nadal, winning 81 per cent of his service points and breaking the Spaniard’s serve five times in a flawless performance over two hours and four minutes.
“You never really know until you actually start to play how it is going to play out because there are nerves obviously playing against your biggest rival, the final of one of the most important tournaments in the history of [the] sport,” Djokovic said. “There is a lot at stake and a lot of things can go astray in a split second once you start doubting yourself. I was really in a good state of mind, I was positive, and it reflected in my game as well.”
This is a new year and a new edition of the Australian Open, though. And Djokovic, this year’s second seed, knows that although he split the four Grand Slams in 2019 with Nadal, there will be plenty of strong challengers in 2020.
“Daniil [Medvedev] is playing great tennis. Played a close five-setter against Nadal in the US Open final last year.. it was very impressive to see Medvedev coming back, going strong, going over five hours, competing. Those are the signals, signs that you want to see in the champion’s mind of one player. He’s definitely in that small group of players that are getting closer and narrowing the gap to the Grand Slam title,” Djokovic said. “Alongside him I would say is Dominic Thiem, who has been around and knocking on the door. A couple of Roland Garros finals against Rafa, also close matches. Tsitsipas has won a big title at the [Nitto ATP] Finals a few months ago, so I think tennis is in good hands.
“We have a very good Next Generation of players, Zverev of course, that has been around. We are hoping that this is not going to be the year when they are going to win a Grand Slam. That’s what we are working on. But let’s see. I think that’s inevitable, it’s going to happen. When and if it happens it’s going to be great for the sport.”