By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic claimed a record seventh Australian Open crown on Sunday as he demolished Rafa Nadal 6-3 6-2 6-3 in his most dominant Grand Slam win in his long rivalry with the Spaniard.
The peerless Serb broke Nadal five times at a stunned Rod Laver Arena while conceding only a single break point to clinch his 15th Grand Slam title and third in succession after winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
The pair’s 53rd Tour clash and eighth in a major final was not the marathon battle it was expected to be, as top seed Djokovic bulldozed through the first two sets with machine-like precision and wrapped up the match in just over two hours.
Sealing the win on the second championship point when a desperate Nadal fired a backhand long, Djokovic kneeled on the blue hardcourt and shook his fists at the sky, letting out a roar of triumph.
“I am just trying to contemplate on the journey in the last 12 months,” Djokovic said beaming at the trophy ceremony.
“Like Rafa, I had surgery exactly 12 months ago, and to be standing now here in front of you today and managing to win this title and managing to win three out of four slams is amazing. I am speechless.”
Having moved past Roger Federer and Roy Emerson’s six titles to take sole ownership of the record, Djokovic took back his mantle as master of Melbourne Park.
On the strength of his annihilation of Nadal, a 17-times Grand Slam champion who had entered the final in outrageous form, Djokovic’s Australian haul appears set to grow in coming years.
Blitzed from the start, Nadal could only congratulate an opponent that condemned him to his worst Grand Slam defeat in their long rivalry.
“It has been very emotional two weeks. Even if tonight was not my best, I had somebody that played much better,” said the 32-year-old.
“I am going to keep fighting hard, going to keep working hard to be a better player every time, for the good things in life.”
It was a greater humbling than even the quarter-finals of the 2015 French Open, when Djokovic thrashed Nadal 7-5 6-3 6-1 to end the Spaniard’s six-year winning streak at his favourite claycourt tournament.
A centre court crowd that remembered the titanic 2012 decider, when Djokovic beat Nadal in a record five hours and 53 minutes, was quickly subdued by the Serb’s total dominance.
Nadal was broken in his first service game as he fired wild and wide when presented with an open court.
It was clear not everything was right with the Spaniard when at 4-2, he swung a forehand and completely missed the ball.
Eight games in, Djokovic had yet to lose a point on serve.
He finally conceded one when serving for the set at 5-3 but it was the only point he gave up before closing it out when Nadal found the net.
Nadal’s remodelled serve was quickly under siege, and he punched his racket strings in frustration after giving up two break points in the fourth game.
The crafty Serb floated a drop-shot over and Nadal’s scrambling retrieval clipped the net cord to give Djokovic ample time to swoop in and collect it.
The Serb threw a fiery glance at his players’ box after breaking to 5-2 and fired two aces to take a two-set lead.
All business, he then marched back to his seat in silence, without so much as a quiet fist-pump.
Nadal battled on but every piece of magic he produced was outdone by the Serbian sorcerer.
He scrambled in to feather a delicate, sliced drop-shot over the net, raising premature cheers from the crowd as Djokovic swooped on it and sent an even cleverer drop-shot cross-court.
After further baseline punishment, he broke Nadal for the fourth time, pulling him around like a puppet-master before tripping him up with an irretrievable drop-shot.
Nadal finally prised a break point in the fifth game of the third but it quickly disappeared in a maelstrom of power hitting.
Djokovic knuckled down to complete an astonishing rout.
Firing a forehand down the line to bring up two championship points, he converted the second to take back the Melbourne throne amid a thunderous chorus of Serbian cheers.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)