MELBOURNE, Australia —Novak Djokovic trounced Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 on Sunday with a display of almost flawless tennis to win his record seventh Australian Open title and 15th Grand Slam crown.
Though the world No. 1 had been the favorite, the match represented a startling collapse by the Spanish second seed, who hadn’t dropped a set throughout the entire tournament.
Wrapped up in just two hours and four minutes, it was also a far cry from the rivals’ five-hour, five-set semifinal last year at Wimbledon, and their epic almost six-hour match in the Melbourne final of 2012.
Djokovic has now won three consecutive Grand Slams, after claiming the Wimbledon and US Open titles last year.
The title moves him one clear of Australian Roy Emerson and Swiss Roger Federer who won the Australian Open six times each, and also puts him ahead of Pete Sampras, who won 14 Grand Slam titles.
During the awards ceremony on Rod Laver Arena, Nadal congratulated Djokovic for playing “an amazing level of tennis.”
“It has been a very emotional two weeks even if tonight wasn’t my best day of course (and) I had somebody that played much better than me tonight,” he said.
“Even if tonight was not my night, it was so important to be where I am today, coming back from injury,” added the Spaniard, who has been plagued by injuries and had not played a tournament since the US Open in September.
Djokovic, who has described Nadal as his “greatest rival,” returned the compliments, saying his return from injury showed “to me and to all your other colleagues and many young tennis players around the world what is the definition of fighting spirit and resilience.
“I’m just trying to contemplate on the journey of the last 12 months because as Rafa I’ve been through a surgery and quite major injury myself the last couple of years,” he continued, after accepting the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup.
“But I had the surgery exactly 12 months ago and to be standing in front of you today and managing to win this title and three out of four slams is truly amazing, I’m speechless.”
Djokovic dictated play from the start, only dropping one point on his service game in the first set, while Nadal struggled to hold, immediately being broken by the Serbian who shot to a 3-0 lead.
By the end of the first set Djokovic had blasted 12 winners to six from Nadal and committed just three unforced errors to 11 by the Spanish second seed.
The pattern continued in the second set, with Nadal being broken after he overcooked a volley lob. The Serbian broke again to lead 5-2 and then served for the set, sealing it with a couple of aces.
In the third set Djokovic again broke early with a well placed drop shot to lead 2-1 and created two championship points at 5-3 on Nadal’s serve, the second of which he converted when a Nadal backhand went long.
Throughout the match he fired 34 winners to just 21 from Nadal, and committed just nine unforced errors to 28 from the Spaniard.
Nadal told reporters part of the reason for his loss was that he had not been able to practice defense.
“I worked a lot on the offensive game, but not that much on the defensive game. To play against a player like him, playing the way he played tonight, I needed that defensive game to finally have the chance to be offensive, no?”
But the 32-year-old said he was confident he could still challenge his rival in the future.
“What I need is I need time, I need work, and I need more weeks like this one,” he said.
Djokovic meanwhile said he would be working hard on his game in the coming months to give himself a shot at claiming a non-calendar year Grand Slam —which he would have to wrest from Nadal, the reigning French Open champion and “king of clay.”
“Obviously I have to work on my game, my clay court game, a bit more, more specifically than I have in the last season,” he said.
“I need to play better than I have 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.”