Novak Djokovic put Roger Federer on notice as he won his 17th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and warned he was going all-out for the Swiss’s record of 20 — and his mark for weeks as world number one.
Djokovic, who came through a mid-match slump to win his eighth title in Melbourne, is relentlessly totting up the victories that could soon end the debate over who’s the greatest in history.
The five-set victory over Dominic Thiem was his eighth in eight finals in Melbourne, putting him alongside Federer and Nadal as the only men to win the same Slam eight times.
It makes Djokovic, 32, the first man in the Open era, and only the second in history, to win Grand Slam titles in three different decades — and as a not-insignificant bonus, returns him to world number one.
In an ominous sign for his rivals, the Serb has started the year unbeaten with Wimbledon, the French Open, the Tokyo Olympics and the US Open all lying in front of him as tantalising opportunities.
He is clear-sighted about his goals: overtaking Nadal’s 19 Major titles and Federer’s 20 to become the all-time Grand Slam king, and outdoing the Swiss master’s record 310 weeks in the top ranking.
Djokovic has so far clocked up 276 weeks as number one and could pass second-placed Pete Sampras’s 286 in April, and Federer’s 310 on October 5.
“Obviously at this stage of my career, Grand Slams are the ones I value the most. They are the ones I prioritise,” said Djokovic, adding “there’s a lot of history on the line”.
“Grand Slams are one of the main reasons why I am still competing and still playing a full season, trying to obviously get the historic number one (record). That’s the other big goal,” he said.
With five major titles in just over two years, and unbeaten by Nadal and Federer at the Grand Slams since 2014, there’s no question who’s now the leading member of the Big Three.
The latest rankings tell the story at the top of men’s tennis: Djokovic is number one, Nadal, one year older at 33, is second and 38-year-old Federer is a relatively distant third.
Seven-time Major winner Mats Wilander said Djokovic’s win in Melbourne sets a marker for a year in which he could sweep all before him.
“At the end of the year, we could have two players on 20 or two on 19 or even more because Novak can win all four,” he said.
“This is a huge win for him going forward. A loss here would have been very difficult to get confidence and come back.
“But the door is open for him to start climbing through it and talk about being the greatest ever.”
As he jets out of Melbourne, his name etched yet again on the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, Djokovic warned that his confidence and expectations were soaring.
“I’m super happy with the way I started the season. It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the year,” he said.
“To start off the season with a Grand Slam win significantly boosts your confidence and your expectations are quite high for the rest of the season.
“But whatever happens, this season is already successful.” (MR, Inputs: Agencies).