Novak Djokovic is sitting pretty with 17 Grand Slam titles and by the looks of things, could go on to win a few more. This piece remembers Djokovic’s maiden major win way back in 2008, at the Australian Open.
Djokovic’s rise to his maiden Grand Slam win had been a neat, step-by-step process. In his first season playing majors in 2005, he didn’t get to the fourth round of any of the tournaments but there were a couple of solid showings at Wimbledon and US Open.
In 2006, there was a quarterfinal at the French Open [lost to Rafael Nadal] and fourth round at Wimbledon, but his breakthrough year was 2007. After a fourth round exit at the Australian Open that year, Djokovic made it to the semifinal at both, Roland-Garros and Wimbledon where he lost to Nadal.
And then at the US Open, aided by Nadal’s early exit, he came through and made it to his first ever Grand Slam final. Roger Federer tamed Djokovic in the title-decider in straight sets at Flushing Meadows to clinch his 12th major.
Djokovic Shocks Federer
Heading into the tournament, Djokovic was the third seed and looked in imperious touch throughout the competition. His first real test came in the fourth round in the form of Lleyton Hewitt but the Serb brushed him aside in straight sets, before dishing out the same treatment to David Ferrer.
In the semifinal, Djokovic met Federer.
Federer was a heavy favourite and not just because he was fresh from his Wimbledon and US Open victories the previous year. In the six matches these two had played till then, the Swiss maestro had won five including the aforementioned US Open final victory.
Djokovic’s only win over Federer had come in 2007 in Montreal but it was a hard-fought three-setter that went into a final set tie-breaker. The signs were positive but Federer was expected to go through.
Instead, Djokovic needed just three sets and less than two and a half hours to dismantle Federer’s hold over him, moving to the final with much ease. Despite an early break in the first set, Federer did struggle with consistency, made a lot of unforced errors and fell away after that early advantage.
Even Djokovic was surprised, especially with the ease of the win.
After winning the semifinal, he said:
“It’s unbelievable to beat the number one player in the world, probably the best this court has seen. I am very proud. It’s very difficult to play against a player who is so dominant on any surface. He has been so successful in the last couple of years in Australia and he had the crowd behind him. I am amazed at the way I coped with the pressure and I played my best tennis.”
Djokovic Wins the Final against Surprise Entrant
The kind of form Djokovic was in, there was nothing to suggest he wouldn’t have beaten Nadal had they met in the final but with a head to head of 6-2 in favour of the Spaniard at that stage, and 3-0 in Grand Slams, Djokovic might have found it a lot tougher.
Instead, it turned out to be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who awaited Djokovic; an unseeded Frenchman who had stunned the ninth seeded Andy Murray in the first round, eighth seeded Richard Gasquet in the fourth and then crushed the second seeded Nadal in three sets in the semifinal.
Tsonga had won ATP’s Newcomer of the Year award for the previous season, sure, but if Djokovic’s entry into the final was bit of a surprise, the Frenchman’s march into the title-decider wasn’t expected at all.
And when he grabbed the first set of the final against Djokovic, shockwaves had begun to flow through the arena. Except, it didn’t quite materialise as Tsonga would have liked. A break of serve in the seventh game of the second set and then again early in the third helped Djokovic overturn the Frenchman’s advantage.
And while Tsonga held on the fourth set to force a tie-breaker, Djokovic showed enough calmness to pocket the set, match and the maiden Grand Slam title.
What Happened Next?
After becoming the first Serb to win a Grand Slam title, Djokovic struggled to repeat the same for three years. In fact, till the 2010 US Open, he failed to reach any final either.
Howevever, in what turned out to be a repeat of the 2007-08 pattern, Djokovic made the final of the 2010 edition of the US Open and lost, before defeating Murray in the final at the 2011 Australian Open. He pouched his maiden Wimbledon and US Open titles that year to really announce himself to the tennis world.
Djokovic went on to add a whopping seven more Australian Open titles after that first victory in 2008.
Tsonga improved to a career-best ranking of number five in 2012, but could never make the final of another Grand Slam again. There were four semifinals though, and defeats to four different opponents in those – Murray, Ferrer, Wawrinka and Djokovic.