Goran On Slams Race: 'The Chase is Beginning'
Djokovic’s coach reflects on his charge’s ninth Australian Open final win
After declaring Novak Djokovic's stunning 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 Australian Open final victory against Daniil Medvedev a 'masterpiece', coach Goran Ivanisevic says that it's only a matter of time before the Serb and World No. 2 Rafael Nadal overtake Roger Federer in the Grand Slam titles battle.
Djokovic’s 18th major championship triumph places him within touching distance of Big Three rivals Nadal and Federer, who both own a record 20 Grand Slam trophies. This is the first time that Djokovic has been within two titles of the all-time record and he has also extended his lead over Nadal and Federer in the 'Big Titles' race.
“This is great. Number 18. Now the chase is beginning. The chase is there and it's great. [Novak has] a lot of confidence.”
As a coach and a tennis fan, Ivanisevic is excited for what the remainder of 2021 and beyond will offer in the race for Grand Slam supremacy. Djokovic and Nadal have combined to win 10 of the past 11 Grand Slam events, with Dominic Thiem's breakthrough at last year's US Open the only exception.
“Rafa, for sure, is going to win one [more Grand Slam], I hope not two, but I give him one,” said Ivanisevic. “Who knows? They're unbelievable. They [are] producing better and better tennis every time when you think they [are] gone. The young guns are coming, they are here but these guys are better, one step better in the finals. I don't know where is the end…
“It's amazing what they are doing on the court. It's amazing how they perform in the big matches. I'm waiting for Roger to come back. It's going to be more interesting to see what is going to happen at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. [It] is just great. The race is there. I said a couple [of] years ago [that] Rafa and Novak [are both] going to overtake Roger. I still believe that. I still think so.”
As Djokovic’s coach, Ivanisevic has experienced the biggest highs and lows of the Serbian’s past two years on Tour. The Croat was a part of the team when Djokovic saved two championship points to defeat Roger Federer in an all-time classic 2019 Wimbledon final and he also supported the World No. 1 when Rafael Nadal produced a stunning display against his charge in last year’s Roland Garros championship match.
After witnessing his man’s dominant performance against Medvedev on Rod Laver Arena, Ivanisevic’s assessment of Djokovic’s ninth final win at Melbourne Park was simple.
“Today was just a masterpiece… [It was an] unbelievable, unbelievable performance,” said Ivanisevic.
The 2001 Wimbledon champion approved of every element of his player’s game. Djokovic won 68 per cent of second-serve return points (19/28), kept his unforced error count to 17 and won 16 of 18 net points (89 per cent) en route to victory.
“Everything [impressed me]. How he stayed calm, how he did everything exactly [how] we talked [about] before the match. All the key points,” said Ivanisevic. “If you see Daniil’s record for [the] past 20 matches (20-0), [it] was very impressive.
“[Daniil] was really playing unbelievable tennis, probably the best tennis from everybody here. [Novak had] all the key points to return Daniil’s serve.”
As it has in each of the nine Australian Open finals Djokovic has played (9-0), the 82-time tour-level titlist’s game came together at the perfect time at Melbourne Park. Ivanisevic was not only impressed with the six-time year-end World No. 1’s individual strokes, he was also pleased by Djokovic’s fearless attitude against an opponent who had won his past 12 matches against Top 10 players.
“He was not afraid of Daniil's backhand. He was not afraid to come in. He was not afraid to serve,” said Ivanisevic. “He was serving [well throughout] the whole tournament, so many aces... Novak was just perfect and executing and taking every chance…
“Honestly, I thought [this would be] a pretty even match before the match started. But this is the final. This is Novak's court. Novak never lost a match here in the final. You could see that that helped a lot in the end.”
Djokovic’s record-extending ninth Australian Open title run has placed the Serbian in the most exclusive of Grand Slam clubs. Djokovic is only the second man, alongside 13-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal, to win nine or more titles at a single major championship.
“He showed the world again how great, how big he is as a tennis player,” said Ivanisevic. “This is his tournament. Like Rafa has Roland Garros, Novak has [the] Australian Open. This victory is even sweeter [given] that I know what he has [gone through]. I know what kind of emotions and pain he went through in [the] past week, and he won the tournament in this way. It's just amazing.”
Djokovic’s run to his 18th Grand Slam trophy was perhaps his most complicated. The 33-year-old, who was competing in his 28th major final (18-10), conceded more sets en route to this championship match (5) than any of his previous 27 Grand Slam final runs.
Two of those five sets were dropped in a dramatic third-round clash against Taylor Fritz. Leading by two-sets-to-love, Djokovic sustained a tear to an abdominal oblique muscle in the early stages of the third set. The Serbian was pushed to a fifth set by the American, but he eventually managed to pull through in three hours and 25 minutes.
Djokovic, who took an MRI after that match, was pushed to four sets in his next two matches against Milos Raonic and Alexander Zverev, before playing pain-free in his straight-sets semi-final victory against Aslan Karatsev.
“Some people, they can deal with the pain. Some people, they cannot deal with the pain,” said Ivanisevic. “It's like that… [The] key match for me was [the] one with Raonic, and after with Zverev. After that [he] was better and better.”
Djokovic’s ability to manage the injury through his final four matches of the tournament was inspirational to Ivanisevic.
“He's amazing. [This run] shows you that the guy is just unbelievable,” said Ivanisevic. “Mentally, I never met somebody like that… I witnessed something that was amazing. This victory — with what he had — is unbelievable, just amazing.”
The Grand Slam titles race will recommence from 23 May to 6 June at Roland Garros. Nadal has won the clay-court Grand Slam championship on 13 occasions since his debut in 2005, while Federer (2009) and Djokovic (2016) have both claimed the trophy on one occasion.