Novak Djokovic improved a subtle part of his game -- and he now looks completely untouchable

Novak Djokovic advanced to his sixth consecutive Australian Open final on Thursday, besting Roger Federer 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in a performance that was at times so masterful you nearly forgot that his opponent was the most decorated player in the history of men’s tennis.

The first two sets, which Djokovic won in a swift 54 minutes, were especially stunning. Djokovic conceded only three games in two sets, and more impressively made just six unforced errors. In the first set, Federer won 11 points. In the second, 16.

“I think against Roger, these first two sets have been probably the best two sets I’ve played against him overall I think throughout my career,” Djokovic said after the match. “I’ve had some moments against him in sets where I’ve played on a high level, but this was, yeah, I think a different level than from before.”

The overall match lasted two hours and 19 minutes, which is awfully short compared to many of the five-hour sagas Djokovic has played in semifinals and finals over the course of his career. According to Boris Becker, Djokovic’s coach and a six-time Grand Slam winner himself, cutting down his time on court has been one of Djokovic’s biggest goals of late.

In an interview with GQ prior to the start of the Australian Open, Becker revealed that Djokovic had been working on winning points, sets, and matches must faster in order to stay fresh in the late rounds of big tournaments.

Here’s Becker on Djokovic, from GQ:

I think he plays more aggressive, he wins the points faster, therefore the matches are shorter, and he’s still fresh in the semifinal and final. Whereas I felt before, when I was actually doing TV commentary for some of his matches, now and then he would lose a set or two for no reason. And I feel like that has changed. I feel he really is on the court with a clear purpose, with a clear game plan and he’s able to execute it.

Save for his five-set Round of 16 match against Gilles Simon in which he made a staggering 100 unforced errors, Djokovic has managed to get on and off court with speed and relative ease this tournament. Against Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals, he flew through three sets in just two hours and seven minutes. Now he’ll have fresh legs and two days rest before the finals, where he’ll face either Milos Raonic (who has never beaten Djokovic) or Andy Murray, who Djokovic leads 21-9 in head-to-head matchups.

Djokovic has now reached 17 consecutive tournament finals, dating back to last year’s Australian Open. He came one win shy of completing the Calendar Slam last season (losing to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final), but still posted a record of 82-6 for the season, one of the best individual seasons in history.

Last season’s run of form seems hard to match, but as he’s shown early this year, Djokovic is still finding ways to improve his game. A win on Sunday would give him 11 career Grand Slams. Nadal has won 14 and Federer 17. Djokovic is fast approaching.

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