MELBOURNE - On a cool Sunday night (Jan 27) as he walked around the court and through the corridors, Novak Djokovic finally unburdened himself. Threw his racket to a spectator. Gave his shoes away. Signed his jacket, unzipped it and handed it to a fan.
He didn't need anything because he had the only thing he desired. History. Usually he chases it, but now it was following him. Wherever he walked, a gloved security man trailed him. Holding a trophy that had his name engraved on it for a record seventh time.
Djokovic is the best player in the world and on Sunday he played some of the best tennis we might have ever seen. He played it with the precision of a maths wizard and as unbendingly as an interrogator. He played it against Rafael Nadal but at times was only playing with him. He won the Australian Open 6-3-, 6-2, 6-3 and it takes a rare talent to turn a contest into a clinic.
Djokovic lost 12 games in six sets over the semis and final and finished the men's final in 23 minutes less than the women's finale. At times he resembled a genius on remote control. After he was done, the Serb raised his arm into the air and it looked like he was pointing to the skies. Perhaps he was trying to explain the level of tennis he was playing. Seventh heaven stuff.
"It ranks right at the top," said Djokovic later of his performance. "Under the circumstances, playing against Nadal, such an important match, yeah, I mean, it's amazing. Obviously back-to-back semi-finals and final, I think I made 15 unforced errors in total.
"It's quite pleasantly surprising to myself, as well, even though I always believe I can play this way. At this level, as I said, under the circumstances, it was truly a perfect match."
Djokovic respects Nadal and Roger Federer yet he is committed to erasing them from history books. He now leads Nadal 28-25 on all surfaces, 8-0 in their last eight hardcourt meetings and has won as many Australian Opens now as both put together.
The greatest player ever is never a truth but only an argument. A sort of game within a sport. Djokovic has won the last three Grand Slam titles, has 15 Slams in total, two behind Nadal and five behind Federer and this chase looks irresistible. The only thing which could defeat him is his own body. "It's still far," he said of the feat, but still possible.
Twelve months ago Djokovic had his elbow repaired and it should be investigated for wires, levers and a radar. After all he resembles a brilliant, bionic beast. He returned like a mind-reader, moved "super quick" as Nadal said, and could hit a 10 cent coin on the baseline on the dead run if you challenged him. It's the equivalent of target shooting while balancing on a high wire.
Djokovic started rapidly and never relented. He won 13 of the first 14 points and lost one point in his first six service games. Yet no number can adequately clarify his control. It was one of those nights, which Lionel Messi has occasionally, and Stephen Curry, when hand, foot, eye and ball create their own perfect concerto.
Competition is what people came for but this, in its own way, was a celebration of tennis. The night wasn't dramatic and yet it was hypnotising. The Serb broke Nadal five times and allowed him a sniff of only a single break point. Logic told us Djokovic had to miss and yet he didn't. History told us Nadal would resist him and yet he couldn't. People applauded for they recognised that before them was a man stretching the boundaries of excellence.
Nadal called Djokovic's performance "fantastic" but qualified that he was not fully tuned. From autumn last year, his knee, ankle, thigh and abdomen have complained, just further instalments in the grand mutiny by Nadal's body. In his latest comeback he has been offensively sharp but not had the time to tune his defensive game.
"If I am able to run 100 per cent and to resist every ball, then you find ways. The things that look easy for (Djokovic) become little bit more difficult when you have to do it one more time, one more time and one more time." Still, he acknowledged, "is true that maybe was difficult to beat him even if I was at my 100 per cent".
But this night belonged to Djokovic, a man so lean he looks built from wire and mountain rope. He is not an artist but a fascinating athletic scientist, who will now look and learn and tweak his game like a mechanic at a formula one pit.
The player who wins the Australian Open is always unique for only he in that year can achieve a feat accomplished by only two men in history, neither of them named Roger or Rafa. Only Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) and Don Budge (1938) have negotiated the Grand Slam, which is all four Slams won in a calendar year.
It is extraordinarily difficult and yet Djokovic on Sunday was exceptionally dazzling. He will need luck but in his eyes you can see his drive. At his press conference, champagne was popped but the ascetic champion didn't reach for a glass. Perhaps he is already in training.