For the second time in his career, Stefanos Tsitsipas found himself denied a grand slam title by Novak Djokovic who claimed the Australian Open title for his tenth Aussie crown and draw level on 22 grand slam titles with arch rival Rafa Nadal.
Tough luck tonight, great battle. This is definitely not your last Grand Slam, you still have a lot of time, much more than me Novak Djokovic
The two finals where very contrasting affairs with Tsitsipas losing the 2021 French Open after leading by two sets to love while this time it was a more comfortable straight sets win for the Serbian who, with the victory, reclaimed the World No. 1 spot.
The 6-3 7-6(4) 7-6(5) result sparked off thunderous applause from inside and outside the Rod Laver Arena as the seemingly pro Serbian crowd hailed their hero’s success, grabbing the bragging rights over the equally strong Greek supporters.
For Djokovic himself, the occasion was an emotional affair for he was pushed throughout the three sets, particular in the second, managing to win the critical points with stronger play.
The Serb climbed into his player box amid wild celebrations before collapsing in tears as the realisation that his fortnight’s objectives had been finally realised and the memories of last year’s controversial deportation while not quite erased, were dimmed.
“This has been one of the most challenging tournaments in my life, considering what happened last year,” Djokovic said in his post-match trophy acceptance speech, just moments after being heralded as the “greatest to have ever held a racket” by a stunned looking Tsitsipas.
“There is a reason why I’ve played my best tennis in Australia. I try to pinch myself and live through these moments. This is probably the biggest victory of my life, considering the circumstances.”
Both players arrived for the final round knowing that the winner would not only becoming the tennis champion of Australia, but also replacing the absent Carlos Alcaraz at the top of the world rankings.
Djokovic looked to be in a hurry as he dominated the opening set, moving smoothly and serving with great accuracy gaining his first break in the fourth game when Tsistspas double faulted on break point. He had also held two break points on Tsitsipas’s previous service game! The pressure was certainly being applied to disrupt the Greek’s best weapon, his serve.
It was also noticeable that for the first time Djokovic had appeared on court without the strapping protecting that hamstring which he had worn throughout all his previous matches during the fortnight.
The first set was over in 38-minutes and it looked as if the scene had been set for a comfortable run for the record breaking Serb.
But back-to-back love holds at the start of the second hinted at a revival as Tsitsipas’s groundstrokes started to cause Djokovic problems.
Tsitsipas earned his first break point of the match – and, crucially, a first set point – when a straightforward backhand from his opponent found the tramlines.
The umpire called for silence as an element of the boisterous crowd cheered a missed first serve, but it only seemed to inspire Djokovic for deuce. Two points later, it was 5-5 and the set headed for a tie-break.
Tsitsipas no doubt thinking about that lost set point saw Djokovic quickly establish a 4-1 lead in the tiebreak but fought back to level helped by a Serb double but further errors from the Greek allowed his opponent to take a two-sets to love lead.
Finally Tsitsipas captured the Djokovic serve at the start of the third but as is his way, he immediately remedied the error by breaking straight back.
Both players were now serving impeccably at the same time so another tiebreak became inevitable where again, Djokovic raced into a 5-0 lead and again, Tstsipas fought back to 5-3 and then 6-5 until finally Djokovic got over the line after two-hours and 55-minutes to spark off the most emotional celebrations of his career.
“I would like to finish by commenting on Greece and Serbia,” Djokovic said during the closing ceremony.
“We are two small countries with no real tennis tradition. We didn’t have players to look up to, who reached these heights. The message for any young tennis player around the world, dreaming to be here where Stefanos and I are: dream big, don’t let anybody take away your dream.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from. The more disadvantaged childhood, the stronger you become. Stefanos and I are proof of that. Nurture it, water it like you’d water a flower. You can make it.”
“I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome and comfortable to be in Melbourne, Australia,” he added.
“I try to pinch myself and really live through these moments and it’s a long journey… Only the team and family knows what we have been through in the last four to five weeks. This, probably, is the biggest victory in my life considering the circumstances.”
Turning to his beaten opponent he continued:
“Tough luck tonight, great battle. This is definitely not your last Grand Slam, you still have a lot of time, much more than me.
“I would also like to congratulate your family and your team… You are one of the most professional tennis players that I know on the tour, and one of the most interesting guys.”
Tsitsipas, who fell short of becoming the first Greek tennis player to win a Grand Slam, commended Djokovic’s contribution to the sport.
“I have had the privilege to play a lot of high intensity matches, but I would like to say one more time that Novak brings the best out of me and these are the matches I have been working my entire life for,” Tsitsipas said.