Djokovic emerged as the winner of an exciting 2013 Australian Open, but more importantly, he emerged as the best player in tennis today.
After his magical 2011 run (during which he won three Grand Slams), Djokovic seemed poised to take control of the men’s game for the foreseeable future.
He never quite hit the stride that everyone hoped he would. He never took control of the game.
But this year—this year looks like it’s going to be different.
Djokovic didn’t always play his best tennis at the Australian Open. He wasn’t always dominant. He was just dominant when he had to be—like when he thrashed David Ferrer so badly in the semifinal (he won 6-2, 6-2, 6-1) that Ferrer later said (per BBC Sport’s Piers Newbery):
He play very, very good. I didn't have any chance to win tonight. All can I say is Novak was better in every moment than me.
That’s just the thing—at certain points, Djokovic summoned up a brand of tennis that no one else could even come close to matching. It was evident in the championship game as well.
After Murray beat him in a first-set tiebreaker and then nearly took the second set from him, Djokovic basically decided that enough was enough. He demolished Murray in the next two sets. He imposed his will. Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim wrote:
By the third set, Djokovic unleashed the haymakers, carving up Murray with depth and defense. After scoring a few breaks of serve—something neither player had done for the first 31 games—he had demoralized Murray and drained him of force. The fourth set was a formality.
As great as it is that Djokovic became the first man to win three straight Australian Opens, his play during the third and fourth sets of the title match was the real takeaway from Melbourne. He elevated his game, and Murray couldn’t reach it. It’s as simple as that.
Federer isn’t getting any younger, Nadal will always be hampered by his knee issues and Djokovic definitively proved that Murray isn’t on his level during the finals. With his Australian Open victory, Djokovic solidified his status as the preeminent player in men’s tennis.
Whether or not he’ll finally be up to the task of taking the French Open remains to be seen (no player but Nadal and Federer has won in Roland Garros over the past eight years), but Djokovic is clearly ready for a big 2013.
Tacking on another two (or maybe even three) Grand Slams isn’t out of the question if he can show up the way he did in Melbourne. He looked that good.
Djokovic hit the next level at the Australian Open. The tennis world had better beware.