The result was familiar, the ease with which it was achieved somewhat of a surprise. The historic implications of this match certainly did not shackle Novak Djokovic as the Serb beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets to win a 10th Australian Open title and a record-equaling 22nd grand slam.
After securing the 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-5) victory, Djokovic went to the players’ box and uncontrollably sobbed, the significance and emotion of his achievement overcoming him. Even as he returned to his seat on the court, Djokovic hid his face in a towel, the television cameras picking up the sound of his continued crying.
Last year, Djokovic was unable to defend his title after being deported from the country over his Covid-19 vaccination status. This year at Melbourne Park, he has had a hamstring injury and had to deal with the fallout of his father, Srdjan, being filmed with a group of Russian supporters at the Australian Open.
During the presentation ceremony, Djokovic described this win as “the biggest victory of my life.”
“This has been one of the more challenging tournaments I’ve ever played in my life, considering the circumstances,” he said.
“Not playing last year, coming back this year. I want to thank all the people who made me feel welcome, made me feel comfortable. Only the team and family knows what we’ve been through these last four to five weeks and this is the biggest victory of my life considering those circumstances.”
The statistics are astonishing, the quality and consistency of his tennis even more so. Djokovic last lost at the Australian Open in 2018, a winning streak that spans 28 matches. At this tournament, he only lost one set.
Both Djokovic and Rafael Nadal now share the men’s record for major wins, while Djokovic becomes only the second man to win more than 10 titles at a single slam. The other being, yes, Nadal, who has won the French Open 14 times.
Undoubtedly the two men are all-time greats of not only their sport but any sport. Which one is the greatest? That battle and debate is ongoing, and tennis is the benefactor.
Victory over Tsitsipas in Melbourne, which took just under three hours, also returned Djokovic to the top of the men’s world rankings, a spot he will occupy for a record-extending 374th week.
Tsitsipas, playing in his second grand slam final, the first of which, at the French Open, also ended in defeat to Djokovic, can take heart that he is not the first player to be outplayed by the 35-year-old Serb on the big occasion.
The Greek’s serve was under pressure from the get-go. He fell 15-40 in the second game but came through to tie the first set at 1-1, yet once Djokovic broke in the fourth game not only did it feel that the set would reach an inevitable conclusion, but so too would the match.
Tsitsipas, the third seed, put up sterner resistance in the second set, the unforced errors were reduced, the serve became more potent, and he earned a set point but it was Djokovic who prevailed in the 15-shot rally that followed. And then, the chance was gone. Forehand errors would ruin Tsitsipas’ chances in the tiebreak that decided the set.
An immediate break of serve by Tsitsipas in the third set suggested the match was set to turn, but Djokovic broke back immediately. Again, a tieberak was needed to separate the pair, with Djokovic supreme this time – going 5-0 up before claiming three championship points.
When Tsitsipas hit a return long, the title for Djokovic was secured. The Serb looked towards his team and family members – his father Srdjan did not appear to be present – and pointed to his head and heart. And then came the tears.
Ultimately, Tsitsipas’ 42 unforced errors proved costly, while he was only able to secure one of three break points, opportunities he had to take if he was to truly test the Serb.
For now, the man tipped to be one of the players to succeed men’s tennis’ big two remains in the shadows.