Novak Djokovic’s eighth Australian Open title set the tone for what is likely to be a historic season in men’s tennis.
The Serbian recovered from a mid-match slump to defeat Dominic Thiem 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4 in the final at Melbourne Park, keeping the younger generations excluded from the grand slam winners’ circle once again.
Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have now won all of the last 13 grand slams, with Stan Wawrinka the last to break the stronghold at the US Open in 2016.
Djokovic’s latest Australian triumph took his tally to 17, two adrift of Nadal and only three behind Federer’s all-time record, with it seeming increasingly certain the Swiss will be overtaken by one or both of his biggest rivals.
Djokovic also reclaimed the world number one ranking from Nadal, beginning his 276th week at the top of the standings.
Federer’s record of 310 weeks is another well within Djokovic’s sights, and he has made no secret of how much of a target that is.
The 32-year-old said: “Obviously at this stage of my career, grand slams are the ones I value the most. They are the ones I prioritise. Before the season starts, I try to set my form, shape for these events where I can be at my prime.
“Of course there’s a lot of history on the line. I do have professional goals. 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.
“That’s the other big goal. I put myself in this position that is really good at the moment. I’m super happy with the way I started the season.
“I’ve had that privilege to win this big tournament eight times. 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.”
Grand slam attention will now turn to the French Open, where Nadal will be favourite to claim a ridiculous 13th title.
That would draw him level with Federer in the all-time list, but Djokovic is the only player to have beaten the Spaniard at Roland Garros over the last decade and he will undoubtedly fancy his chances, as will Thiem, the runner-up for the last two years.
Should Djokovic win in Paris, he would became the first of the ‘big three’ to win all four slam titles at least twice – another big feather in his cap.
That would also open the door to the possibility of a calendar Grand Slam and equalling Federer’s mark this year.
Eurosport expert Mats Wilander said: “It is getting closer and closer and, when Novak gets an Australian Open, he usually has a good year.
“Winning here, does that make him the favourite at Wimbledon, where he is defending (the title)? Yes. That’s 18. (It) makes him the favourite at the US Open. That’s 19.
“At the end of the year, we could have two players on 20, or two on 19, because Novak can win all four.
“This is a huge win for him going forwards. 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.”