Novak Djokovic Climbing Ladder of Historic Greats with Australian Open Title

Lindsay Gibbs@linzsports Featured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2015

Novak Djokovic of Serbia kisses the trophy after defeating Andy Murray of Britain in the men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Lee Jin-man/Associated Press

On Sunday evening in Melbourne, Novak Djokovic defeated Andy Murray 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-0 to win his fifth Australian Open title and his eighth major overall.

It wasn't always pretty, but there are no style points in the history books.

Djokovic, 27, now owns more Australian Open titles than any man in the Open Era. He is tied with Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors on the all-time list for Grand Slam singles titles in the Open Era.

That's not a bad day's work.

"I'd like to congratulate Novak on his fantastic, incredible record. It's thoroughly deserved," Murray said on court after the match.

"I'm so privileged and honored and grateful to be standing here as a champion five times," the Serb told the crowd on court as he accepted his trophy.

This era of men's tennis has spoiled us so much that sometimes it's hard to fully appreciate everything we are seeing.

For example, it's easy to get so wrapped up in Roger Federer's 17 Slams and great form at the age of 33, and Rafael Nadal's 14 Slams and quest to catch Federer, that we completely overlook what a career Djokovic is carving out for himself in the midst of it all.

Just think about it: Since the Open Era began in 1968, only four men have won more majors than Djokovic has, and two of them are still active.

Djokovic is just a French Open victory away from being the fifth player to win all four Slams in the Open Era, and he's now just three major titles away from tying Bjorn Borg with 11. Both of those goals are well within the Serb's reach, particularly now that he's learned how to win Slams when he's not at his peak.

Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

It's been a pivotal year for Djokovic, who has been increasingly in the spotlight due to the struggles of the other Big Four members. (Although, let it be known that the Big Four are back to being ranked No. 1-4, so rumors of the group's demise have been greatly exaggerated.)

After all, while Djokovic had forever changed his legacy with his out-of-this-world 2011 season when he won three Slams, went 70-6 with 10 titles overall and began the year with a 41-match winning streak, he had fallen back to earth a bit over the subsequent few years. From the 2012 French Open to the 2014 French Open, the Serb was in six major finals, but he lost five of them.

Matt Zemek of Bloguin's Attacking the Net looked at the pressure on Djokovic at the time:

Heading into last year's Wimbledon final against Federer, Djokovic owned a losing record (6-7) in major finals. There was a sense that he had to start winning these matches in order to truly fulfill his career's immense promise. With Nadal either injured or no longer a consistent grass-court player, and with Federer getting older, this is supposed to be Djokovic's time, the final two- or three-year period in which he can substantially enhance his legacy.

But, as we now know, Djokovic did end up winning Wimbledon last year in a tight match over Federer. In that tournament, he finally figured out how to beat the best on the biggest stage when he wasn't playing at his peak.

He put that skill to good use once again at this Australian Open. It wasn't that noticeable in the first few matches, but by the time he got to the semifinals against Stan Wawrinka, it was glaringly obvious that Djokovic's game wasn't in tip-top condition.

Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

The Serb won the semifinal against Wawrinka 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 despite going through an entire 10-game set (the fourth) without hitting a single winner, an unheard of stat for the world No. 1.

Djokovic was in better form in the final, which featured many fast-paced, physical, thrilling cat-and-mouse rallies with Murray. However, the match was peppered with spraying errors, perplexing momentum swings and some patches when Djokovic looked out of the match both mentally and physically.

Despite the lopsided final set, it was an incredibly intense and testy match—so intense and testy, in fact, that his wife Jelena Djokovic, who was watching from back home in Serbia, had to take a walk to calm her nerves midmatch!

Jelena Djokovic @JelenaRisticNDF

Going for a chill-out walk 👣🐩 #needit #GoNovak #nolefam #AusOpen

But Djokovic handled the ups and downs of the match beautifully. Due to his experience, he now knows how to stay patient during those bad patches. He knows not to give up completely when his opponent gets a few breaks. And, most importantly, he knows how to get to the finish line when he sees it. What he occasionally lacks in form he makes up for in smarts and maturity.

The 27-year-old's talent is undeniable, and his C-game is enough to beat most players in the Top 100. However, against the best players in the world in the biggest moments, it's good to have the mental fortitude to rely on if the game isn't flowing in perfect harmony. He didn't have that before, but he does now, and that's why he's continuing to add to the record books.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 02:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia, coach Boris Becker, agent Edoardo Artaldi, and agent Elena Cappellaro pose with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after Djokovic won his men's final match against Andy Murray of Great Britain d
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The Serb is six years younger than Federer, and his body is much healthier than Nadal's, who is only one year his senior. While the ATP is a little less top-heavy these days, there aren't exactly a lot of younger players nipping at his heels. He should have, at minimum, three more years to challenge for Slams.

Considering he's won at least one Slam per year the last five years, that puts him firmly on the path to Borg's 11. After that, Pete Sampras and Nadal at 14 aren't far off at all.

It might sound absurd to be talking about Djokovic catching such legends of the game, but you must remember that just a few years ago it sounded just as absurd to think about Djokovic catching Agassi and Connors when he was still in his tennis prime, and yet here we are.

Novak Djokovic doesn't care that he's playing in an era with two of the greatest players of all time, and he certainly doesn't care that so many of his accomplishments are being overlooked.

He's making his own charge at history, and so far it's going pretty well.


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