Djokovic beats Tsitsipas in Australian Open final for record-equalling 22nd major title

Serb returns to world No 1 after claiming 10th trophy in Melbourne with a 6-3, 7-6, 7-6 victory

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There was an amusing comment made by former world No 1 Andy Roddick after he narrowly lost the 2004 Wimbledon final to Roger Federer. "I threw the kitchen sink at him," the American said, "but he went to the bathroom and got his tub."

Sunday's Australian Open final told a similar story. Stefanos Tsitsipas, appearing in his second Grand Slam final, did his best to play lights out tennis, operating at close to his brilliant maximum. The only problem was, Novak Djokovic brought a nuclear-powered backup generator.

The 6-3, 7-6, 7-6 scoreline was a fair reflection of a high-quality final, contested inside a raucous Rod Laver Arena, and resulted in even more history for the irrepressible Serb. A record-extending 10th Australian Open title earned Djokovic his 22nd Grand Slam trophy to pull him level with Rafael Nadal as the most successful male major champion in history.

Australian player Nick Kyrgios, whom Djokovic defeated for major No 21 at Wimbledon last year, tweeted after the final: "He will get 28 slams easy." That might actually be underselling it, such is the chasm that exists between Djokovic and the rest of the tour, particularly on hard and grass courts.

Djokovic also reclaimed his rightful place at the top of the rankings. The Serb entered the Australian Open as the world No 5 and seeded fourth. Much of that comparatively low ranking can be attributed to his absence from last year's Australian and US Opens and the lack of ranking points at Wimbledon following the All England Club's decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players.

And it was his return to Melbourne 12 months on from his infamous deportation which provided the biggest sub-plot to what always felt an inevitable march to the title. From 10 days in an immigration detention hotel to a 10th Australian Open title, the emotion of that rollercoaster journey was clear for all to see as Djokovic broke down in tears after climbing into the players' box to celebrate with his family and team.

"I have to say this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I have ever played in my life considering the circumstances, not playing last year, coming back this year," Djokovic, 35, said during the trophy presentation while wearing a jacket with '22' emblazoned on the chest.

"I try to pinch myself and really live through these moments. It's a long journey. Only the team and the family knows what we have been through in the last four or five weeks. I would say this is probably the biggest victory of my life, considering those circumstances."

Those circumstances also included a hamstring injury that, Djokovic claimed, was serious enough for him to consider withdrawing from the tournament during the first week. However, any lingering fitness concerns had been emphatically overcome in the past two rounds, where the Serb utterly dominated Alex De Minaur and, more ominously, fifth seed Andrey Rublev.

It looked like the final would trend in a similar direction when Djokovic broke Tsitsipas for a 3-1 lead before comfortably claiming the first set. But there is a reason why the Greek is one of the best players in the world who had won all 10 of his prior matches this year, and the second set was a closely-fought affair.

In fact, it was Tsitsipas who had the only chance in the set to break serve, the opportunity arising on set point no less with Djokovic serving at 4-5. A tense tiebreak ensued, Djokovic initially striking out into a 4-1 lead only for Tsitsipas to claw his way back to 4-4. Three straight points for Djokovic, though, handed him a 2-0 lead and left Tsitsipas with a mountain to climb.

The 24-year-old took his first steps towards scaling the peak by breaking in the first game of the third set, but was brought immediately back down to earth as Djokovic levelled for 1-1.

The remainder of the set stayed on serve, leaving a tiebreak to once again settle the outcome, and Djokovic looked to be cruising to victory when he led 5-0. Tsitsipas kept his cool and stayed in the fight to win five of the next six points but was unable to prevent Djokovic wrapping up the title on his third match point.

"I have had the privilege to play a lot of difficult and high intensity matches but I would like to say one more time, Novak brings out the best in me," Tsitsipas said. "He's the greatest that has ever held a tennis racquet for sure."

Djokovic signed off with a message for the next generation. "For any young tennis player around the world watching this now, dreaming to be where we are now, dream big. Anything is possible. Don't let anyone take away the dream."

Even in his wildest childhood dreams, Djokovic would surely not have envisioned 22 Grand Slam titles. In reality, it would seem even more are set to come.

Updated: January 29, 2023, 1:54 PM