Exactly one year ago, Novak Djokovic was holed up in an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne awaiting the outcome of his visa appeal.
The Serb had arrived in Australia with what he understood to be a valid medical exemption to Australia's strict Covid-19 entry rules. But the Border Police viewed it differently and detained the nine-time champion of the country's Grand Slam. After court battles, appeals and demonstrations on the streets, Djokovic was deported and slapped with a three-year ban.
With the relaxing of Australia's entry rules – visitors no longer need to provide proof of vaccination against Covid – Djokovic's ban was cancelled and a visa was issued, so all eyes were on the 21-time major winner on his return to the country this month.
Thankfully, this year's experience has been a decidedly happier affair so far, more in keeping with Djokovic's previous visits Down Under.
After all the smiles and the "love" came the obligatory title. It might not have been under the bright lights of Melbourne Park's Rod Laver Arena – not yet, anyway – but it was a thoroughly satisfying start to the 2023 season nonetheless.
Competing in the Adelaide International for the first time in his career, Djokovic had to dig deep to get his hands on the trophy, saving match point at the end of the second set before defeating American Sebastian Korda 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 in an entertaining and highly competitive final.
"Amazing performance today, you were probably closer to the victory than I was," Djokovic, 35, said to Korda. "It was decided by one or two shots, one or two points, so tough luck, but you have a bright future and you are an amazing player."
It was indeed a final of fine margins. Korda edged himself ahead by breaking for a 5-4 lead in the first set but his serve, which had been impeccable up to that point, faltered in the very next game to allow Djokovic to level. A tiebreak was required to decide the opener and it was the American who drew first blood after a marathon 18-point breaker.
Serve continued to dominate in the second set until Korda, the world No 33, carved out a golden opportunity to seal the title. But facing championship point while serving at 5-6, Djokovic displayed his trademark clutch composure with a perfectly executed point, sealed with an emphatic overhead smash.
It proved a turning point in the momentum of the set as Djokovic sealed the second set tiebreak, 7-3, to level the match.
The final continued to be finely-poised throughout the deciding set, with both players remaining strong on serve. That was until Korda afforded Djokovic a break point while serving at 4-5, and in typically ruthless Djokovic fashion, he closed out the show when Korda sent a forehand long.
"I hope you enjoyed the show tonight," Djokovic said to the crowd after collecting the 92nd title of his career. "It's been an amazing week and you guys made it even more special for me.
"To be standing here is a gift. I gave it my all today and this week to be able to get my hands on this trophy and the support I've been getting the last 10 days has been something I haven't experienced too many times in my life, so thank you so much."
Djokovic will now head to Melbourne for a tilt at a record-extending 10th Australian Open title, and having extended his winning run in Australia to 34 matches, the Serb will undoubtedly be the man to beat at the year's first Grand Slam.
In the day's other finals around Australia, Belarusian world No 5 Aryna Sabalenka won the WTA title in Adelaide with a 6-3, 7-6 win over Czech qualifier Linda Noskova, and the United States clinched the inaugural United Cup mixed team event by dominating Italy in the final.
Over in New Zealand, American world No 7 Coco Gauff continued her Australian Open preparations in fine style, easing to the Auckland Open title with a 6-1, 6-1 victory against Spanish qualifier Rebeka Masarova.