An emotional Novak Djokovic completed an extraordinary turnaround from the events of a year ago when he resumed his hegemony over the Australian Open.
The 35 year-old Serbian, detained and deported over visa issues relating to his unvaccinated status last January, won his tenth title when he defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3 7-6 7-6 in two hours and 56 minutes inside a rowdy Rod Laver Arena.
By doing so he equalled Rafael Nadal’s tally of 22 Grand Slam trophies in what was his 33rd final, one in which the crushing weight of experience was brought to bear.
Novak Djokovic won a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title in Melbourne on Sunday
The Serb was overcome with emotions after winning at Melbourne Park just one year after he was controversially deported from Australia for not being vaccinated against Covid-19
Presented with the runner-up trophy, Tsitsipas heralded Djokovic as ‘the greatest player ever to hold a racket.’
Djokovic had wept uncontrollably as he celebrated with his family, and continued when he got back to his chair.
He said: ‘What a journey it has been for my family my team and myself. I appreciate the patience and love you are giving me.
This has been one of the most challenging tournaments I have ever played in my life, not playing last year, coming back this year and I want to thank all the people who made me feel comfortable.
The Serb beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3 7-6 7-6 to claim a record 10th Australian Open title
Djokovic celebrated with his team and family Dijana, pictured here patting him on the back
Djokovic appeared to have a series of arguments throughout the match with his coach Goran Ivanisevic (right with the black and yellow T-shirt)
‘There’s a reason I have played my best tennis on this court. Only the team knows what we have been through in the last five weeks, this is the biggest victory of my life considering the circumstances.’
A tournament short on great matches burst into life in the second set when the Greek put his opponent under severe pressure, but ultimately it was a familiar story of Djokovic being the stronger when it most mattered.
That included the third set tiebreak, in which he raced to a 5-0 lead and then remained calm when Tsitsipas took the next three points. Djokovic sealed it with a forehand on his third match point 7-5.
He pointed to his head before climbing up into his box to celebrate and then breaking down.
Djokovic wasn’t at his best for large spells of the final on Sunday and had to dig deep to secure a 10th title at Melbourne Park
Tsitsipas rallied in the second set but spurned a number of glorious chances to level the score
He regains the world number one position, despite playing fewer tournaments than his rivals, and it there can be no arguing with that.
In the mechanics of the game, particularly in areas such as the return, he is clearly ahead of the chasing pack.
Just prior to the match the roof opened after earlier rain, and it also became apparent that Djokovic’s controversial father, Srdjan, had voluntarily stayed away from his box.
There was also no sign of the usual strapping on the hamstring that had been evident in previous rounds, however superfluously.
Djokovic was roared on by Serbian fans in the stands at Rod Laver Arena throughout the match
But his father was absent following the uproar from his well-publicised appearance in a footage with pro-Russia supporters, leaving the seat next to his mother (second row) empty
If that was to avoid a distraction it seemed to work as Djokovic was utterly dialled in from the start.
Tsitsipas had no answers to his relentless consistency and every hold was hard work compared to a stroll for the Serb.
He broke for 3-1 thanks to a double fault and was in no danger of losing the lead.
Only in the third game of the second set did Tsitsipas start to look he might make more of a match, firing in his forehand and drawing the first mutters towards his box from the previously serene Djokovic.
Moving his return position, Tsitsipas continued to prosper until, with the crowd increasingly getting behind him, he created a break and set point at 5-4, which Djokovic saved with a winning forehand drive.
The tiebreak was a strange affair, tense and scrappy with neither player wishing to sieze the moment.
Tsitsipas was in the ascendancy when he profited from errors to get back from 1-4 to 4-4. It was then that it became obvious who owns 21 Grand Slam titles compared to zero.
The mistakes spilled over into the third set as they exchanged breaks early on, but soon Djokovic was looking unbreakable on serve, reeling off the holds with ease.
Tsitsipas dug in well to take it to a tiebreak, but again did not have the composure to match his opponent.