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.
When he returned to the playing surface, Djokovic sat on his sideline bench, buried his face in a white towel and sobbed some more.
This trip to Australia was far more successful than that of a year ago — when he was deported because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19 — although difficult in its own ways: a bad hamstring; some off-court tumult involving his father. Yet Djokovic accomplished all he could have possibly wanted in his return: He resumed his winning ways at Melbourne Park and made it back to the top of tennis, declaring: “This probably is the, I would say, biggest victory of my life.”
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.
“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.”
“Very emotional for us. Very emotional for him,” said Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic. “It’s a great achievement. It was a really tough three weeks for him. He managed to overcome everything.”
Djokovic acknowledged all of the issues created strain for him.
“It took an enormous amount of mental and emotional energy,” Djokovic said, “to really keep it tight, keep my focus.”
Keep in mind: It’s not as though Tsitsipas played all that poorly, other than a rash of early miscues that seemed to be more a product of tension than anything. It’s that Djokovic was too unyielding. Too accurate with his strokes, making merely 22 unforced errors, 20 fewer than his foe. Too speedy and flexible on the run (other than when, moving to his left, Djokovic took a tumble).
“I did everything possible,” said Tsitsipas, who also would have moved to No. 1 with a victory, replacing Carlos Alcaraz, who sat out the Australian Open with a leg injury.
Perhaps. Yet Djokovic pushes and pushes and pushes some more, until it’s the opponent who is something less than perfect on one swing, either missing or providing an opening to pounce.
That’s what happened when Tsitsipas held his first break point — which was also a set point — while ahead 5-4 in the second and Djokovic serving at 30-40. Might this be a fulcrum? Might Djokovic relent? Might Tsitsipas surge?
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.
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