Rafael Nadal recalls: ‘Novak Djokovic was too strong and gave me no chance’

Rafael Nadal was a player to beat in 2019, securing four Major and Masters 1000 titles and lifting the Davis Cup Finals trophy with his teammates in Madrid. Nadal did not reach the semi-final only twice that year, and he did enough to clinch the year-end no. 1 honor for the fifth time at 33. Things did not look bright for Rafa in the opening four months, recovering from an injury that forced him to skip the final stages of 2018 due to a knee injury and struggling to win the title. Before three straight semi-final losses on his beloved clay, the Spaniard experienced his most brutal defeat in the Major finals in Melbourne, losing to Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in two hours and four minutes. Nadal did not lose a set before the title match, suffering only two breaks in six encounters and looking good to win the Australian Open ten years after he did that for the first time. Still, Novak was not an ordinary rival, and Rafa’s improvements were not enough to topple the Serb or put a proper fight.

Nadal’s last victory over Djokovic on the hard court had come at the 2013 US Open, and the Spaniard could not change that in this one, dropping 13th of the last 16 matches against the mighty opponent and settling with the runner-up prize. Djokovic’s sublime performance left Nadal with nothing to change the outcome, as the Serb had the upper hand from the very first point. Novak controlled the pace with a masterclass hitting from both wings, opening the space and forcing Rafa to play far behind the baseline from where he could not produce any damage. Losing serve only twice before the final, the Spaniard was in all kinds of trouble after not finding the way to impose his shots and get some free points against the wall on the other side of the net. Like many times before, Nadal was doomed in forehand-to-backhand exchanges that Novak could endure the whole day long without losing the pace or momentum, sending missiles from both wings that left Rafa unarmed.

Rafael Nadal shared his thoughts about the 2019 Australian Open final.

Nadal’s first serve did not exist, winning miserable 51% of the points after landing it in and playing better on the second serve but suffering five breaks from eight opportunities offered to Novak. The Serb was on another level in the serving department, dropping 13 points behind the initial shot and facing only one break chance that he successfully defended to keep his games intact. Novak had 34 winners and jaw-dropping nine unforced errors, dominating from every inch of the court and leaving Nadal on a 21-28 ratio, far from enough for at least one decent set. There were clear signs of disaster for Rafa right from the start, as he won one point in the first seven of Novak’s service games. The Spaniard had no rhythm behind the initial shot either, getting broken at 15 in the encounter’s second game and losing five straight games in set number two to find himself 6-3, 6-2 down in no time! Novak would never waste such a massive advantage while playing on this level. He cemented the victory with a double break in set number three for his most dominant triumph over Rafa at Majors.

“Novak played on an incredible level in Melbourne, and that defeat was not my worst moment of the season. I had been behind throughout the whole match and could not have any regrets. I think I had not assumed all of the changes in my game, especially the serve, since I used a new technique at the beginning of the season. It worked well in the previous six matches, but when I faced Novak in the final,” Rafael Nadal said.