Novak Djokovic laid the foundations for his Australian Open regime in 2008, when the talented 20-year-old shocked the previously untouchable defending champion, Roger Federer in the semi-finals in straight sets. It took Djokovic three years to back-up that success, but his 2011 victory began a ruthless reign in Melbourne, during which he swatted away most of the opposition with contempt.
There have been some epic battles down the years, but Djokovic has largely been clinical in his execution down under.
The Serbian has outlasted the opposition with his wonderful balance; mixing controlled baseline aggression with sensational defending; his unrivalled athleticism only matched by his mental fortitude.
We look back at some of Djokovic’s finest moments at the Australian Open:
2016 Semi-Final vs. Federer
Novak Djokovic took his Australian Open dominance to a whole new level in his 2016 semi-final against Roger Federer as the Serbian put on a clinic in the first two sets, obliterating the Swiss 6-1 6-2 with some ridiculously clean hitting from the back of the court.
Novak Djokovic, after his 2016 clinic against Roger Federer. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Considering the opposition and the stage, it was almost impossible to imagine the Serbian playing better. This was Djokovic at the peak of his powers: sharp on the return, relentless from the baseline, and glorious with his passing shots.
There was the inevitable dip as the match progressed, as Federer became more of a factor in the third set. The Swiss engineered his first break points of the match in a spectacular sixth game, and while Djokovic got back to deuce from 15-40, Federer had sunk his teeth into the Djokovic serve, forcing the break after giving the Djokovic backhand some serious working over.
Federer had now grown into this contest, and the Swiss pulled off some superb winners in the fourth set, including the most sensational running backhand at 3-4 15-30 down, but that was to be the pivotal game as Djokovic hammered a return at the serving-and-volleying Federer to grab the decisive break. He held to love to close out a fabulous display.
Djokovic beat Murray in straight sets in the final to win his record-equalling sixth Australian Open title.
2008 Semi-Final vs. Federer
Roger Federer had contested ten consecutive Grand Slam finals going into his 2008 Australian Open semi-final against the slam-less 20-year-old, Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic was already very good; he was the third seed at the tournament, but the Serbian was nowhere near as good as the big two of yesteryear, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Federer had won the Australian Open twelve months earlier without dropping a set, including a fourth round victory over Djokovic.
The legendary Swiss seemed on course for another comfortable session when he served for the opening set at 5-4, but Federer suddenly went walkabouts. Djokovic seized the moment and got on an amazing roll when virtually everything he touched turned into gold.
Djokovic reeled off nine of the next ten games to lead by a set and 5-1, and while Federer got one of the breaks back, the underdog took care of business at the second time of asking, sealing the set with an ace down the middle.
Not many believed what they were witnessing, and a good number inside the Rod Laver Arena would have expected a fight-back from their great champion. Federer did threaten to extend the contest, carving out two set points in the third set, but Djokovic fended off his advances and finished off the biggest victory of his career in the ensuing tie break.
He went on to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final for his first Grand Slam title.
2011 Final vs. Murray
Novak Djokovic rose to number one in the world for the first time in 2011, after a rip-roaring start to the calendar year during which he won his first 41 matches.
It all began at the Australian Open.
Federer was again the unfortunate victim in the semi-final, while Andy Murray was thumped in straight sets in the final.
The final was tight at the start, but Djokovic was always the aggressor, hugging the baseline and forcing Murray to defend from deep, and he finally got the break in the tenth game, engineering two break points after winning a gruelling 38-stroke rally, and bagging the set after 59 minutes.
That broke Murray’s resolve, and despite patches of fight from the Scot in the third set, Djokovic was always a couple of steps ahead, taking the last three games to claim his second Grand Slam title.
2013 Fourth Round vs. Stan Wawrinka
Back in 2013, Stan Wawrinka had not become a Grand Slam demon. He was still ranked number 17 in the world and had reached just a couple of Grand Slam quarter-finals. Stan was firmly hidden in the shadows of his countryman, Roger Federer.
Huge respect at the net between Djokovic and Wawrinka after their 2013 epic in Melbourne (Photo by: WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)
But it all changed in 2013.
For much of the opening two sets of his Australian Open fourth round clash against Novak Djokovic, Wawrinka dazed his exalted adversary with the power and accuracy of his hitting, cracking huge serves, and backhands winners with reckless abandon, putting Djokovic’s 17-match Australian Open winning streak in jeopardy.
Djokovic wasn’t playing badly; Wawrinka was just hitting his spots with remarkable consistency.
Djokovic was however experienced enough to know that such ridiculously high level wasn’t sustainable by a player that lacked the experience of closing out big matches, and slowly but surely, Wawrinka cooled off.
The match threatened to get away from Djokovic at 1-6 2-5, but the Serbian hung in there, waited for his moments, and was good enough to pounce when the opening arrived.
Djokovic fought back to take the second set, and the match appeared to drift towards an inevitable Djokovic win when the he won the third as well, but to his great credit, Wawrinka found the resolve to edge the fourth set on a tie break, setting the stage for an epic finale.
Both men battled long and hard into the Melbourne night, until Djokovic, on his third match point, guided a back-hand crosscourt beyond the advancing Wawrinka- a fitting finish to a truly wonderful match.
Djokovic went on to win the tournament, and while Wawrinka lost the match, he won in many other fronts, taking great confidence from how close he came to beating Djokovic and launching himself into future Grand Slam contention.
2012 Final vs. Nadal
Novak Djokovic had inflicted plenty of pain on Rafael Nadal all through 2011, beating Rafa in six straight finals and punching numerous mental scars on the Spaniard.
Nadal would have hoped that a new year would bring better tidings, and he certainly did his bit with an almighty performance in Melbourne in 2012.
Djokovic was coming off another epic win in the semi-final over Andy Murray, and he was second-best for much of the first set, as an aggressive Nadal edged the opener 7-5.
Djokovic responded to take the second set, and then the scars of his previous six victories began to re-open as the Serbian cruised through the third set 6-2. Djokovic looked on course for victory, but Nadal dug into his reserves to dig out an 88-minute fourth set on a tie break.
The Spaniard rode that momentum into the decider, establishing a 4-2 lead, and then came that backhand- the one Nadal and his followers will talk about until the end of time. Nadal missed the chance to go 40-15 up when he inexplicably pulled that short backhand wide with the court at his mercy, and Djokovic sensed the nervousness, broke back, broke again at 6-5 and closed out a remarkable contest with one final forehand into the corner after almost six hours of tennis at its most physically demanding.