A year after the entry whirlwind, Novak Djokovic has crowned his return to the Australian Open with a triumphant end.
The Serbian tennis star won the final on Sunday against the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas 6: 3, 7: 6 (7: 4), 7: 6 (7: 5) and celebrated his 22nd Grand Slam tournament victory. Djokovic drew level with record holder Rafael Nadal and set further milestones in his impressive career.
With the tenth triumph in his tenth final match of the hard court tournament in Melbourne, Djokovic replaced the injured absent Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz as number one in the world rankings. The 35-year-old starts his 374th week as the nominally best tennis player in the world on Monday - and there are many indications of a new long era. A day after Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka's first Grand Slam triumph under a neutral flag, Djokovic demonstrated his exceptional position among men.
Only one set loss, many obstacles
Although Djokovic only gave up one set throughout the tournament, his path to the title was paved with obstacles: he was under close observation because of the events of the previous year, was partly accused of acting because of his thigh problems, defended himself against allegations of an allegedly unauthorized toilet break and publicly defended his father over an incident involving a pro-Russian viewership group. His ex-coach Boris Becker remarked: "There are many secondary theaters of war that disturb his concentration."
Djokovic put it all away. "In my case, I feel like things are piling up for one reason or another," he said. It's "not an ideal situation" to have to deal with things like this off the field, "but it's part of my life". He's trying to take advantage of it and become "more resilient and stronger."
And he proved that in his 33rd Grand Slam final. With outstanding serves, strong returns and great nerves of steel, as in the hard-fought second set, Djokovic forced his Greek opponent to go to the limit again and again in order to even have a chance.
For the first time Djokovic played in the tournament without the white bandage around his left thigh, which, unlike in the first rounds, did not seem to hinder him at all. The age difference of eleven years and 28 days - the largest ever between two Australian Open finalists in the professional era - was not noticeable. Djokovic seemed fit, fresh and highly motivated.
Tsitsipas heats up the mood
The 24-year-old Tsitsipas, who chose the Australian Open as his "home slam", found his game much better in his second Grand Slam final from the second set and thus heated the atmosphere in the Rod Laver Arena with almost 15,000 viewers. Thousands of visitors also cheered on the many public viewing areas in Melbourne Park. In the end, Tsitsipas had to admit defeat to Djokovic, as in the final of the French Open 2021.
Sabalenka's triumph over Kazakh Wimbledon winner Jelena Rybakina on Saturday was accompanied by a political debate as the Belarusian became the first neutral player to win a Grand Slam tournament. The fact that her name was engraved on the trophy, but not that of her home country Belarus, hardly diminished her joy.
"I still feel like I'm on another planet," said Sabalenka at the photo shoot on Sunday in a conspicuously decorated pink dress and high blue shoes: "I like posing - especially as a Grand Slam champion. It's the best morning of my life".