“It’s unbelievable to beat the No.1 player in the world, probably the best this court has seen”. This was the post-match reaction from a then 20-year-old Novak Djokovic. It came after he stunned Roger Federer and broke his 19-match winning streak at Melbourne Park. All this was way back in 2008, after the semifinal at the Rod Laver Arena, he would go on to win it that year.
Now, 11 years later, Djokovic and Federer are the two most successful players on the same court. They will be entering Australian Open 2019 as the pre-tournament favourites and destined to meet in the final. Djokovic plans to end Federer’s two-year reign at Melbourne Park, again.
Reminiscing about the 2008 final, Djokovic said, “It was my first trophy that I won, first major trophy, that obviously served as a great springboard for my career. It opened a lot of doors for me. It allowed me to believe in myself that I can actually win the biggest tournaments in the world, challenge the best players in the world.”
A year after that maiden Grand Slam, Djokovic returned, with the intention of defending his Grand Slam title for the first time. Sadly, his run ended when he succumbed to heat stress in a quarterfinal against American player Andy Roddick.
“Obviously I was a youngster that had a lot of potential and talent, I was kind of working my way up,” he said. “But winning a slam is completely different.
“So that was quite a unique experience for me … I have not won any slam for, yeah, two, three years. It took me a while to really make that breakthrough again.”
Since his maiden Australian Open title run in 2008, Djokovic slumped in the quarterfinals in consecutive campaigns. Things got worse after suffering one of the greatest upsets in slam history, falling to Denis Istomin in the second round in Melbourne in 2017. Then, South Korea’s Hyeon Chung pulled off the improbable when he denied Djokovic in the last 16 during the 2018 campaign.
A few months later, Djokovic picked up back-to-back slams at Wimbledon and the US Open, and went on to finish the year back at No.1.
“If you won it once, you always believe that you can win it again,” he said. “So you’re approaching … slams knowing in the back of their mind that they can actually win it again.
“It raises expectations, which raises pressure, and you have to deal with that. But it comes with, I think, experience and time where you start to feel more comfortable. You start to embrace it more and accept it as part of your life.”