Novak Djokovic wins his 10th Australian Open title, his 22nd Grand Slam
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Novak Djokovic took to the stands at Rod Laver Arena to celebrate his 10th Australian Open championship and record 22nd Grand Slam title on Sunday and, after jumping and raising his fists with his team, he collapsed on back crying.
When he returned to the playing surface, Djokovic sat down on his bench, buried his face in a white towel and sobbed again.
This trip to Australia fared much better than the one a year ago when he was kicked out for not being vaccinated against COVID-19 although tough in his own way: a bad hamstring; an out-of-court uproar involving his father. Still, Djokovic accomplished everything he could have wished for on his return: he got back on his winning streak at Melbourne Park and returned to the top of tennis saying: This is probably the, I would say, the biggest win of my life.
Only briefly challenged in the final, Djokovic was simply better in the most crucial moments and beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6(4), 7-6(5). As a bonus, Djokovic will go from No. 5 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, a spot he has already held for more weeks than any other man.
It was one of the most difficult tournaments I have ever played in my life, considering the circumstances. Not having played last year; returns this year, Djokovic said, wearing a white zip-up jacket with a 22 on his chest. And I want to thank all the people who welcomed me, made me feel comfortable, to be in Melbourne, to be in Australia.
The 35-year-old Serbian extended his unbeaten streak in Melbourne to 28 matches, the longest streak in the Open era, dating back to 1968. He adds the No.10 trophy to Wimbledon’s seven, US Open’s three where he was also absent last year due to missing coronavirus knockouts and two from the French Open, to tie rival Rafael Nadal the most by a man.
Only two women, Margaret Court, aged 24, and Serena Williams, aged 23, are ahead of him.
It was also the 93rd ATP Tour-level title for Djokovic, breaking a tie with Nadal for fourth.
I would like to thank you for pushing our sport so far, Tsitsipas told Djokovic.
He is the tallest, said Tsitsipas, who has ever held a tennis racket.
Djokovic was in his 33rd major final, Tsitsipas in his second and the 24-year-old Greek also lost the other, at the 2021 French Open, to Djokovic.
On a chilly evening under a cloud-filled sky, and with a soundtrack of chanting supporters from both men prompting the chair umpire to repeated pleas for silence, Djokovic was superior throughout, especially in both tiebreaker.
He took a 4-1 lead in the first, then grabbed the final three points. He led 5-0 in the final tiebreaker and when it was over, he pointed to his temple before screaming, a prelude to all the tears.
Very moving for us. Very emotional for him, said Djokovics coach Goran Ivanisevic. It is a great success. It was three very difficult weeks for him. He managed to overcome everything.
Djokovic admitted that all the problems created tension for him.
It took a huge amount of mental and emotional energy, Djokovic said, to really stay focused, to keep my focus.
Keep in mind: It’s not like Tsitsipas played all that badly, other than a series of early errors that seemed to be more a product of tension than anything. It’s that Djokovic was too inflexible. Too precise with his shots, making only 22 unforced errors, 20 less than his opponent. Too quick and flexible on the run (other than when, moving to his left, Djokovic crashed).
I did everything I could, said Tsitsipas, who would also have moved up to No.1 with a win, replacing Carlos Alcaraz, who missed the Australian Open with a leg injury.
May be. Still, Djokovic pushed and pushed and pushed some more, until it was the opponent who was something less than perfect on a swing, missing or providing an opening to pounce.
That’s what happened when Tsitsipas held his first break point which was also a set point as he led 5-4 in the second and Djokovic served at 30-40. Would it be a point of support? Could Djokovic give in? Could Tsitsipas surge?
A 15-shot point concluded with Djokovic hitting a cross-country forehand winner that looked like a statement. Two misses from Tsitsipas followed: a long backhand, a wide forehand. It felt like a surrender. Even when Tsitsipas did indeed break in the third, Djokovic broke straight away.
There have been more than forehands and backhands on Djokovic’s mind over the past two weeks.
There was the not-so-small question from last year’s legal saga he in turn acknowledged that it all served as a form of motivation but also said the other day I’m over this and I’m curious what kind of reception he would get if he was allowed to enter Australia because pandemic restrictions have been eased.
He heard a ton of loud support, but also faced persistent horseplay during the competition, including applause after fouls on Sunday.
There was the sore left tendon which was heavily bandaged for every game until the final, which is when only one piece of tan tape was visible.
And then there was his father’s case, Srdjan, filmed with a group waving Russian flags with an image of Vladimir Putin after Djokovic’s quarter-final. The tournament banned spectators from carrying flags of Russia or Belarus, saying they would cause disruption due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Djokovic and his father said Srdjan thought he was with Serbian fans.
Still, Srdjan Djokovic didn’t attend his son’s semi-final or final.
We both agreed, said young Djokovic, who met dad for a hug after Sunday’s game, it would probably be better if he wasn’t there.
Regardless of all that, Djokovic excelled as he so often does.
It has been a long journey, he says, but very special.
AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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