Djokovic’s dominance

February 02, 2016 12:17 am | Updated November 17, 2021 02:12 am IST

For a sport reeling from allegations of fixing, tennis needed the restoration of a semblance of normalcy. And few things have been as normal these last few years as Novak Djokovic >holding a trophy aloft . So the Australian Open received the finish it so desperately wanted after its start was hit by the >BBC and BuzzFeed exposé . Djokovic never let his focus waver in sweeping to his sixth title in Melbourne, tying Roy Emerson’s record for the most Australian Open crowns. The win was further evidence of the 28-year-old Serb’s dominance. He has won four of the last five Grand Slams, including the three most recent. In 10 of his 11 career Major victories, he has defeated Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray, the other members of the Big Four. He has mastered each of these great men in 6-1 first sets this year and won 17 of his last 18 matches against Top 10 opposition. On current form, Djokovic has no peer; indeed, the rest of the field will need a significant step up if they are to even begin to stretch him. He doesn’t merely enjoy a considerable athletic edge over everyone else — the consistent depth and penetration of his ball-striking from the baseline has never been surpassed in the game’s history. Consider that he has continued to make technical and tactical improvements to his play, becoming more ruthless and clinical in the process, and it is clear his ambition continues to burn bright. Indeed, he >spoke after his win of getting back to work after a short celebration.

Sport advances in iteration, but perhaps never before in men’s tennis have three of the finest, most dominant champions succeeded each other so quickly. Djokovic now stands where only a few, Federer and Nadal among them, have stood before. A sense of how difficult it is to maintain such superiority may be had from the women’s game. Serena Williams has appeared just as peerless over a similar period, but one match in which anxiety reduced her level and a brave, inspired opponent elevated hers proved the difference between a Major won and one lost. Angelique Kerber’s triumph will conveniently be classed as a fairy-tale run. But 28-year-olds who have never before reached Slam finals don’t do it on a wing and a prayer. They do it because they finally realise failure’s transformative potential; because they are willing then to stake every last bit of their being on what looks to others a long shot. In defeating Serena — still one short of Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22 Majors, but with at least as strong a case for being considered the greatest ever — and the formidable Victoria Azarenka, Kerber pulled off an extraordinary coup under severe pressure. Another variation of the theme of dominance came in the women’s doubles. Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis claimed their third successive Grand Slam title together, extending their winning streak on tour to 36 matches. Like Djokovic and Serena, they will look at the remainder of 2016 covetously — as an opportunity to enhance their legacy.

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