At this time last year, Novak Djokovic stood significantly behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on the list of the most prolific champions ever at the major events, and slightly beneath Pete Sampras. With his 12 Grand Slam tournament titles, Djokovic was eight behind the Swiss Maestro, four back of the redoubtable Nadal, and he trailed Sampras by two. He had not taken a major since collecting his fourth in a row at the 2016 French Open. His mind was muddled. His elbow was ailing. He was simply not the essential Novak Djokovic we had marveled at for so long, not the same inexhaustible individual who had dominated tennis comprehensively from the start of 2015 into the middle of the following year, when he was victorious at five of six Grand Slam tournaments.
But since the middle of 2018, Djokovic has reinvented himself, surpassing all of his rivals, playing the game once more as only he can, leaving audiences gasping at his singular skills. He has swept the last three majors in succession, and now he has on three occasions garnered three or more majors in a row, a record no other man has matched. He realized that extraordinary feat in 2011-2012 when he was victorious at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open; going one better in 2015-2016, he took four in a row (and established himself as the first man to do that since Rod Laver won his second Grand Slam in 1969); and now has commenced his 2019 campaign with his third “Big Four” crown in a row.
And so the battle for all-time supremacy at the majors among the men has been altered decidedly. Federer remains at 20, Nadal has climbed to 17, while Djokovic has moved past the great Sampras into third place with 15 of these prestigious prizes. No longer is Federer safe at the top. Nadal is now in tenuous territory at No. 2 on the ladder. And Djokovic is so sharply focused on the goal of getting to No. 1 on the list—and he is playing such an inspiring and unassailable brand of tennis—that only a fool would dismiss his chances of eventually surpassing both Nadal and Federer.
At the Australian Open, Djokovic signaled to his chief rivals and the tennis world at large that his pursuit of history’s highest honors is as fierce and targeted as it has ever been. He capped off the fortnight in Melbourne majestically, raising his career winning record over Nadal to 28-25 by obliterating the Spaniard, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. He made a mere nine unforced errors across three sets, totally dictated from the backcourt in rally after rally, and did not lose his serve in the match. In fact, he faced only one break point and won 56-of-69 points on serve, dropping an average of one point a game on his delivery. In my view, that performance was the best Djokovic has ever given on a big occasion, and clearly the finest major final he has ever played. It was both flawless and flamboyant. It was nothing less than astonishing.