Novak Djokovic makes it a perfect No 10 at the Australian Open
The Serb captured a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title with a straight-sets win over Stefanos Tsitsipas, which also will see him regain the world No 1 ranking.
It says something when a defeated Grand Slam finalist talks more about the winner in his on-court speech than himself, like Stefanos Tsitsipas did for Novak Djokovic, “the greatest that has ever held a tennis racquet, for sure”.
Then again, it’s what Djokovic does at the Australian Open: make it less about you and more about him. No matter the noise of the past (the deportation saga of 2022 and its spillover into the 2023 buildup) or the present (drama around his father that kept him away from the final), Djokovic's tennis does the talking in Melbourne.
Like it did at the Rod Laver Arena on Sunday in a 6-3, 7-6(4), 7-6(5) victory in the final where, save the second set, Greek Tsitsipas was at the mercy of the Serb with a record-extending 10th Australian Open and a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title, besides wearing the world No 1 crown again.
Like it has done for five years in a country and the Happy Slam which has given most moments of joy to the 35-year-old. Since his straight-sets defeat to Hyeon Chung (kudos to the Korean) in the fourth round of the 2018 Australian Open, Djokovic has not lost a match in the country. Not just at the Australian Open, in any tournament in Australia in the leadup to the season-opening Slam. Down Under, the Djoker’s rise is unparalled.
Even when a hamstring injury that he suffered in the final of the ATP Adelaide victory threatened to pull him down and place him alongside other challengers. Goran Ivanisevic, Djokovic's coach, believed “97% of the players” would have withdrawn from the tournament but his lone ranger, despite the strapped left thigh affecting his game and movement in the first week, carried on.
“It required enormous mental energy to stay present, to stay focused, to take things day by day and see how far I can go,” Djokovic said.
It took him to a place where he hasn’t lost the nine previous times and against an opponent he has beaten the nine previous times. Tsitsipas, however, looked as good as ever these two weeks at Melbourne Park and had taken Djokovic the distance in the 2021 French Open final.
Then again, it’s what Djokovic does at the Australian Open. The Tsitsipas forehand, his most trusted artillery this tournament, was blunted to an extent that it largely misfired (the Greek had 10 groundstroke forehand winners compared to 26 unforced errors).
“There’s nothing that I could have extracted more for today. I did everything possible,” the world No 4 said.
Djokovic walked out on Sunday without the strapping on his thigh, a statement that he was battle fit for the final. The start too was a statement, cruising in his holds while pushing Tsitsipas with a couple of early break points. Sure enough, Djokovic sailed ahead in the fourth game, winning the backhand duels and attacking the second serve as Tsitsipas double-faulted on break point.
With Djokovic backing up his rip-roaring returns by winning 94% first serve points, Tsitsipas wasn’t able to make inroads in the opening set.
The 24-year-old came up with a rare forehand winner in the third game of the second set to get the crowd into it. The next game, in his first real opening at 15-30 on the Djokovic serve, the Serb shut it with a winner and the game with an ace.
Tsitsipas though continued to show a positive body language, also flaunting a drop shot and backhand down-the-line winner. While the Greek was injecting energy, an animated Djokovic was venting out to his box. Something had to crack for the Serb serving to stay in the set. It did in the form of three unforced errors that handed Tsitsipas a set point. Big guns deliver on the big points, and Djokovic saved it with a cracking forehand winner in a 15-shot rally.
After Djokovic tightened his game and composed his demeanour, the tiebreak proved anticlimactic as both went tight and error-strewn. It was especially poor from Tsitsipas who had three forehand errors in the first five points and four in total to crumble on the back of his only phase of control in the match.
There was then no way back for the first-time Australian Open finalist against a man who’d never lost a Slam final from two sets up. Though Djokovic got cold and broken at the start of the third set after a lengthy break, it didn't take too long for him to get the break back.
As if the unshakable baseline beast wasn’t enough for the Greek, Djokovic was now executing drop shot winners too. With his forehand progressively diminishing and missing simple putaways, Tsitsipas played as bad a tiebreak in the third set as he did in the second even as Djokovic lifted his game. Setting up three championship points, he asked the crowd to also raise their decibel levels.
They obliged. So did Djokovic. As the Australian Open champion for the 10th time.