Djokovic claims 7th Australian Open title

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Serb doles out worst Grand Slam defeat in Nadal rivalry

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, center bottom, poses for a photo with ball kids after defeating Spain’s Rafael Nadal in the men’s singles final at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia on Jan 27. (AP)

MELBOURNE, Jan 27, (RTRS): Novak Djokovic claimed a record seventh Australian Open crown in devastating style on Sunday as he condemned Rafa Nadal to the most stinging defeat in their long Grand Slam rivalry. Three years after thrashing Andy Murray for the 2016 trophy, the Serbian regained his Melbourne Park throne with a 6-3 6-2 6-3 procession, clinching his 15th Grand Slam title and third in succession.

Moving past Pete Sampras into outright third on the all-time list of Grand Slam winners, Djokovic will head to Roland Garros looking for a second “Nole Slam”, having already swept all four majors in 2015-16. Only Federer’s 20 and Nadal’s 17 outstrip Djokovic’s tally of Grand Slam trophies, but on the strength of the champion’s virtuoso performance at Rod Laver Arena, they will be looking nervously over their shoulders.

It was a win that left even Djokovic marvelling, seven years after needing a record five hours and 53 minutes to fell the Spaniard in the 2012 classic at Melbourne Park. “It ranks right at the top. Under the circumstances, playing against Nadal, such an important match, it’s amazing,” the 31-year-old told reporters after needing barely two hours to extend his perfect record in seven Australian Open finals. The peerless Serb broke Nadal five times while conceding only a single break point, and coughed up only four unforced errors in the first two sets.

Sealing the win when a desperate Nadal fired a backhand long, Djokovic kneeled on the blue hardcourt and shook his fists at the sky. He moved past Federer and Australian great Roy Emerson’s six Melbourne titles, after two barren years Down Under with elbow problems.

After raising the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup aloft, Djokovic said American Sampras had inspired him to pick up a racket. “It was definitely a sign of destiny to start playing tennis, to aspire to be as good as Pete. To surpass him with Grand Slam titles, I’m speechless,” he said.

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 his six-year winning streak at his favourite claycourt tournament. Broken in his first service game on Sunday, it was clear not everything was right with the Spaniard when at 4-2, he swung a forehand and completely missed the ball.

He was unable to take a point off Djokovic’s serve until the ninth game, when the Serb was already serving for the first set. Nadal’s remodelled serve was clinically dismantled, and he punched his racket strings in frustration after giving up two break points in the fourth game of the second.

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