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Djokovic downs Tsitsipas to win 10th Australian Open, equals Nadal with 22nd career Grand Slam title
The Serb’s 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) victory will also return Djokovic to the world No 1 ranking
Novak Djokovic completed a perfect return to the Australian Open as he won the title for a record-extending 10th time, beating Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) on Sunday to move alongside Rafael Nadal on a men’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles.
Twelve months after he was sent home from Melbourne following his decision not to be vaccinated against Covid-19, Djokovic dominated the first set, saved a set point in the second set and then won a second tiebreak in the third to clinch victory and deny Tsitsipas a first slam title.
As a final forehand from Tsitsipas drifted long, Djokovic turned to his team, pointed to his temple and then to his heart as he took in the enormity of yet another Grand Slam victory. After celebrating with his team, he burst into tears, sobbing for several minutes.
“What a journey it’s been. I have to say this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I’ve ever played in my life, considering the circumstances,” said Djokovic, wearing a jacket with 22 emblazoned on it. “Not playing last year, coming back this year.
“Only my team and my family knows what we have been through in the past five weeks. This is probably the biggest victory in my life, considering the circumstances.”
The victory means Djokovic will return to the top of the world rankings when the list is updated on Monday.
It wasn’t the cleanest performance from the 35-year-old but as so often in the past, he dealt well with the odd dip in concentration and Tsitsipas, trying to become the first Greek player ever to win a Grand Slam title, could not take his chances, with two poor tiebreaks costing him dear.
The result was a second defeat for Tsitsipas against Djokovic in his two slam finals, having lost in five sets – from two sets up – at the French Open in 2021.
Djokovic piles on the pressure from the start
Despite a brief shower about 45 minutes before the start of play, the roof was open for the start of a match so anticipated that Garden Square at Melbourne Park – a public area where fans with grounds passes can sit, was absolutely packed with supporters of both players.
For the first time in the fortnight, Djokovic did not wear heavy strapping on his left thigh and he came out playing at full throttle, serving brilliantly and attacking from the off, while Tsitsipas looked nervous.
Djokovic held easily and then set about the Tsitsipas service game, targeting the Greek’s backhand relentlessly from the baseline. At 15-40, Tsitsipas was staring an early break in the face but he saved both and went on to hold.
Djokovic held to love for 2-1 and continued to pile the pressure on Tsitsipas. The Serb forced another break point and under pressure again, he went for a big second serve and double-faulted. Djokovic held comfortably to extend his advantage.
Tsitsipas upped his first serve percentage but could not make any impression on the Djokovic serve and the nine-time champion wrapped up the first set after 36 minutes.
Tsitsipas loosens up but misses set point
Tsitsipas had barely got close to the net in the first set, perhaps scared off by the quality of the Djokovic ball-striking.
But the Greek upped his aggression at the start of the second set, for the first time in the match, asking more questions of Djokovic. Tsitsipas began to get the crowd involved, lifting his own energy and he stayed with Djokovic in the early stages of the second set.
Djokovic slipped over at the baseline in the sixth game and that moment seemed to change the dynamic of the set. For the first time, the Serb’s focus dipped and he began to yell at his team sitting courtside.
Tsitsipas sensed his opportunity, waving his racquet and flexing his muscles after a couple of big points. At 5-4, he earned himself a set point but Djokovic saved it with a massive forehand and held serve.
Both men held serve to force a tiebreak and Djokovic looked shaky, letting slip a 4-1 lead as Tsitsipas levelled at 4-4. But he could not take advantage, making more errors as the Serb took a two sets to love lead.
Tsitsipas breaks early but Djokovic too strong
Djokovic had lost just once in Grand Slam play when winning the first two sets – to Jurgen Melzer at the French Open in 2010 – while Tsitsipas had come from two sets down to win on three occasions, including one against Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open in 2017.
Djokovic still looked shaky at the start of the third set and Tsitsipas gave himself a glimmer of hope as he broke serve in the opening game. But a poor forehand miss at 30-30 on his serve handed the break straight back.
Tsitsipas stayed with Djokovic as the set wore on and the Serb was stretching out his hamstring at times, offering some hope of a comeback for the underdog. But Djokovic’s serve was near-perfect, as 17 straight points on serve helped him set up another tiebreak.
It was Tsitsipas’s last chance but as in the second set, his game was not there in the tiebreak and Djokovic took a 5-0 lead, holding off a Tsitsipas fightback to win another Grand Slam title, 15 years after his first.
For the record, Djokovic will overtake Carlos Alcaraz as world No 1 on Monday while Tsitsipas will be ranked No 3.
“I’ve had the privilege to play a lot of tough, high-intensity matches but Novak brings the best out of me. That’s what I’ve been working my entire life for. He’s one of the greatest ever to play our sport. I think he’s the greatest ever to hold a tennis racquet.”