Sunday’s final was a weird one.
A day’s perspective has done little to change my mind on things. That match, along with the 2012 US Open final, was neither of the drama nor the quality of men’s major finals clocking in well past the three hour mark. Yet, it was the manner in which Djokovic managed to win that is most interesting.
Djokovic has firmly cemented his position as the man to beat once again. While he “only” won one of the four major titles last year, he was the number 1 for the entire year, and finished in that position. Slowly but surely, Djokovic is moving into a domination of Australia approaching that of Nadal’s at Roland Garros or Federer at Wimbledon.
While it doesn’t feel like it, Djokovic now has four Australian Open titles, three of them coming in a row; becoming the first player in the open era to achieve that feat. The number isn’t the same, but the level of dominance is.
Djokovic’s defeat of Wawrinka was tennis drama at its highest. Djokovic refused to back down in his aggression, and Wawrinka held pace deep into an extended fifth set. Yet, somehow, there was always that feeling that Djokovic would pull it off. Surely, he would hang tough. Not just mentally, but tactically, he would continue to play his style, ripping backhands crosscourt, and go for it.
It was Federer-esque on many levels. Federer has often been accused of not being the greatest “match player”. In other words, he doesn’t always play the bigger points better, or perhaps that he doesn’t adjust his game according to the circumstances or the opponent. The truth is, he rarely needs to. The same can now be said of Djokovic, particularly on this blue surface. Djokovic’s win reminded me of a long forgotten first round win of Federer’s against Igor Andreev at the Australian Open. Andreev was punishing Federer on the backhand wing and pinning him into the corner. Fed was often left with little answer but to scoop it crosscourt. Try as he could, despite running around plenty of forehands and generally destroying the poor ball, Andreev could not get an early, significant blow. Calmly, Federer stuck to his guns and rode it out. You knew he would win.
While Djokovic’s win over Wawrinka showed off his willingness to continue to be aggressive, his game plan against Murray was much more defensive and tentative. Criticize the entertainment value of it, the plan worked. Djokovic was equally as tentative in the US Open final, but the difference in that match was that he was missing. On Sunday, with the exception of the first set tiebreak, Djokovic was not missing, and was never broken. Djokovic knew he needed to keep the court wide open against Stan, and he knew he needed the opposite against Murray; playing an aggressive, side to side style would break him open to Murray’s counter punching. Murray’s inability to create in tight points caused him to collapse under the weight of himself when it mattered most.
Perhaps it’s the confidence instilled from saving match points against Federer at the US Open, where he said after the match that he simply closed his eyes and ripped it, and if it fell in, it fell in. This has become a larger metaphor for Djokovic’s game on the hard courts of Australia. He’s sticking to the plan, and when closes his eyes and rips it, it falls in. 21 matches in a row, and counting.