Novak Djovokic has to be feeling like a million bucks right now.
The 23-year-old Serbian sealed his second Grand Slam title early this morning, cruising past Andy Murray in straight sets to win the Australian Open. In a sport that is somewhat similar to the NHL in that the mainstream sports fan thinks it revolves around two stars (Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer), Djokovic has very quietly stocked up his resume as the No. 3 player in the world.
He's now reached at least the semifinals of all four Grand Slam events and reached the final in both the Australian and U.S. Opens, as he only seems to be getting better.
So is it time to start considering Djokovic as a real threat to Nadal? Here are 10 reasons why.
Federer's first Grand Slam title was at Wimbledon when he was 21 and been on tour for a few seasons. Djokovic's first Grand Slam title came at the 2008 Australian Open when he was 20, which was younger than Federer. Of course, Federer didn't go three years before winning another title like Djokovic, but it also took Nadal four years after his first Slam to win one of the Grand Slam's on a hard surface.
Djokovic will turn 24 in May, and he's entering what should be the prime of his career.
The best players usually hit their stride right around this point; Federer definitely did, and Nadal is getting there too.
Djokovic is somewhat of a late bloomer, and while his style of play might lend itself to a longer career, if he's going to make an impact, now is the time.
Djokovic was always known as a defensive player, especially his backhand. But to some of those watching the Australian Open and watching Djokovic, the development of his forehand has added a lot more to his game.
"But now, once he digs into rallies, he can maneuver himself inside the baseline, take control of the center of the court and dictate to the corners with big groundstrokes off both wings. His forehand, which has surpassed his backhand as his main weapon, has improved immensely, as have his first serve and return."
This development into a more complete and aggressive player will only make him more dangerous.
Outside of Federer and Nadal, there are not a lot of players behind Djokovic who could really contend with him when he's on.
Andy Murray is one of the best players in the world, and Djokovic dispatched him with relative ease. We're still waiting on when Andy Roddick will make that step into what he could be, and perhaps a Gael Monfils could step up, but it hasn't really happened yet.
Nadal has been one of the more dominant players in our era, but he has also dealt with a numerous amount of injuries, most publicly with a knee that has bothered him for a while.
He was forced out of the Australian Open this time with a hamstring injury, but one has to wonder if his history, especially with the knee and foot, will start to wear on him as he gets older.
He may be becoming more aggressive, but Djokovic is still one of the best defensive players in the game, especially when it comes to making returns.
It's very hard to keep up with Nadal when he's scoring aces left and right with that blistering serve, but Djokovic can make his opponents work. If that's the case, then he can frustrate Nadal when he's on his game.
Federer might go down as the greatest men's player of all time, but he's starting to slow down.
And while Federer still holds the lead in head-to-head matches, Djokovic has also closed the gap recently by winning an epic 5-set match in the U.S. Open semifinals last year before he knocked out Federer in straight sets at this year's Australian Open.
The way Djokovic is playing, it might not be long before he passes Federer.
It sounds cliche, but it really is amazing what confidence will do for a person.
And during the Australian Open, Djokovic looked like a player who was confident in his abilities and knew what he wanted to do. You're starting to read the columns about him getting his head right after his dominating performance, and if he continues to play like this, it's scary to think how good he can be.
He has always had the potential, now can he capitalize on it.
During the Australian Open, Djokovic played some of the best tennis of his career.
He lost one set the entire tournament, a tie-breaker to Ivan Dodig in the second round. Other than that, he pushed through the tournament with relative ease, especially in the early rounds. The sets were close, but any time you dispatch Federer in straight sets, that's impressive.
Combine that with the U.S. Open performance, and Djokovic is playing out of his mind right now.
For all his strengths, Nadal is not great on hard surfaces. Seven of his nine Grand Slam singles titles have been either the French Open or Wimbledon. He has the career Grand Slam, but he's more vulnerable on hard surfaces.
Djokovic excels on hard surfaces and has proven he can push Nadal after their showdown in last year's U.S. Open final. If Djokovic has a chance to catch Nadal, he'll need to get him on the hard surface.