Once you’ve won the double-digit trophy, the tournament is yours. So if it’s the French Open Nadal Open, then the Australian Open is now the Djokovic Open. Djoker did not so easily win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in two sets in the final, two sets went to a tiebreak, as he simply marched to him. Which is a “relief” for Djokovic.
Perhaps what is so incredible about Djokovic, if not the touch, is that the story remains the same. He plays cleaner than the guy across from him, no matter how clean his opponent is. Tsitsipas didn’t play badly, coming up with 40 winners, four more than the champion and the new world No. 1. But he made 20 more unforced errors than Djokovic, and that’s kind of always the story. Djokovic continues to land groundstrokes within a few feet of the baseline, and his opponent either has to retreat and be kicked off the court or come up with incredible timing to try and stay on top of the baseline. Tsitsipas’ forehand eventually broke down, with 27 of his unforced errors from that wing.
What are you doing? With Djokovic’s consistency being simply metronomic, a player has to grind it with the best grinder ever to play the game. Or try to outlast perhaps the fittest athlete on the planet. Or play such tennis on the red line and go for everything with a speed and pace that simply no one can match.
It should be said that throughout the tournament, Djokovic strengthened his serve in order to give himself more breathing room than he would normally see. He was broken only once in the final, and had only three break points in total. He won 82 percent of his first serve points, which was the story for most of the tournament. In his quarterfinal loss to Andrej Rubljev, he was never broken, had 14 aces and won 80 percent of his points on the first serve. It’s unquestionably the part of his game that has come the farthest since he came on the scene, and it’s getting better as Djokovic gets older and needs more free points than before.
It is Djokovic’s 22nd major, tying him with Rafa Nadal at the top of Olympus, and positioning everyone well to take the all-time lead at Roland Garros, a tournament where they have won 16 of the last 18 editions. Djokovic’s game may not have as much flash as others, but its relentless and endless regularity is truly awe-inspiring. It’s like the Tim Duncan San Antonio Spurs won 12 titles in a row or something. What it lacks in fire, it more than makes up for in bloodlust and relentless momentum. Although Djokovic showed some physical vulnerability at the beginning of the tournament, the hamstring problem became less and less as the tournament progressed. Until his body starts to howl or government policy keeps him out, it’s hard to see when Djokovic will stop just being around.
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In Saturday’s women’s final, they say the styles match. Generally, this refers to the different ways the game/combat unfolds that make for intriguing tactical puzzles. Or you can get what Elena Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka provided, two players with huge serves and powerful ground weapons who simply cannonball at each other. That’s what the fans got, with three sets of some of the toughest you’ll see, with Sabalenko surviving in three sets, 4-6 6-3 6-4.
Both players are stronger on the backhand, Rybakina’s shoulder turn to that side is quite picturesque, but Sabalanka was the one who managed to find more of her range on that side. And she was just a little bit better in every area, with a few more forehand winners, a few more aces and hitting just a few of her first serves. Rybakina’s serve has deceived a number of Grand Slam champions or top players. the way to the final (Swiatek, Gauff, Ostapenko), but against Sabalenka she failed to score a zero, because less than 60 percent of them entered.
Allowing Sabalenka more points allowed her to show more and more of her power and catch Rybakina’s forehand, which the latter tends to lead rather than hit.
Sabalenka is also a great story, because a year ago her serve became such a disaster that she was reduced to going under the arm. But she spent the season rebuilding it, and now it matches the rest of her fireworks game, and as a result she won her first Grand Slam.