The ‘greatest of all time’ debate in men’s tennis will rage on forever, but Novak Djokovic is without question the best that Melbourne Park has ever seen.
The Serbian superstar claimed his 10th Australian Open title with a scintillating 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-5) win over No.3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday night – four more than any other male player.
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The history-making win is also a record-equaling 22nd major championship title overall, drawing him level with longtime rival Rafael Nadal at the top of the leaderboard in men’s tennis.
And while Nadal’s future more than ever seems shrouded in uncertainty amid persistent injuries, the 35-year-old Djokovic looked as bulletproof as he ever has. Even more so, arguably.
Tsitsipas had no time to warm into the game under the crushing and immediate pressure of Djokovic who, before the Greek could even blink, opened up two break points in the second game of the match.
The underdog hung on to get out of the game unscathed, but couldn’t do the same when faced with a third break point in his next service game.
The Serb looked in an ominously supreme vein of form as he charged through the first set with unflappable precision and power, which seemed to rattle Tsitsipas, who had notched up nine unforced errors inside the first five games of the set, including some shots sprayed wildly off the frame.
“This whole opening set has basically been a statement of, ‘This is my house’, from Novak,” Jim Courier said on commentary.
“He’s played very aggressively, but very few unforced errors. He’s looked calm, composed. He’s had chances to have a bigger lead than he has right now.
Tsitsipas playingon his limits. Misfiring at times. He looks to me like he is being rushed by the speed of shot by Novak so far.”
Djokovic created two set points for himself after just 36 minutes, but needed only one as he took his first step towards a 10th Australian Open crown.
Apparently assimilating to the pressure cooker that is an Australian Open grand slam final against arguably the greatest men’s tennis player to ever pick up a racquet, Tsitsipas started to find his range in a much more evenly balanced second set.
Djokovic’s level was unwavering though, and the two heavyweights traded blows in a neck-and-neck war of attrition.
With neither player giving an inch on their own serve, Tsitsipas opened up a rare 0-30 advantage mid-way through the set. Like clockwork though, Djokovic stormed back into the game and finished it off with an ace.
“He gives the look as if to say, ‘You thought I was in trouble? Not just yet’,” Todd Woodbridge said on commentary.
With no breaks of serve for the set, the players were forced to decide the second set in a tense tiebreak.
Having risen to the level of the Serb during an enthralling second set, Tsitsipas let himself down with some costly errors in the all-important tiebreak.
He gave up a minibreak in the first point of the tiebreak, got it straight back soon after, gave it up again, and recovered it once more, in what was becoming a whirlwind decider.
But when another unforced error cost him a third minibreak, Djokovic wouldn’t forgive him again, closing it out 7-4.
Undeterred by the alarming two sets to love scoreline, Tsitsipas broke Djokovic for the first time of the match in the opening game of the third set.
Not to be denied though, Djokovic broke straight back.
“He’s so good at breaking serve in general, but there is nobody in tennis who, once their serve is broken, breaks back more quickly or more often than Novak,” Courier said.
“It’s like it makes him furious and he takes it out on his opponent. He’s the break-back king.”
A second tiebreak soon looked inevitable as both players stubbornly held serve for the remainder of the set, and the Serb once again took control.
In the blink of an eye, he skipped out to a 5-0 lead, and the trophy was within arm’s reach.
“Tsitsipas, I think we fear to say, has not risen when he’s needed to in this tie-break. Djokovic, as sharp as ever,” Woodbridge said.
With some fight left in him yet, the Greek held his own serve for the next two points and recovered one minibreak back to inch back to 3-5, but he couldn’t snatch back a second, giving Djokovic three championship points.
Tsitsipas saved the first two on his own serve, making it five of the past six points and a 5-6 scoreline, but he couldn’t hold the floodgates back any longer, Djokovic becoming the first player in history to win 10 Australian Open titles.
Djokovic broke down in tears as emotional scenes gripped Rod Laver Arena in the wake of the win.
“We’ve seen tears in matches here before. Roger Federer most notably, but this is something different,” Courier said.
“He’s so mentally tough on the court, almost invincible. But we’re seeing a very human side of Novak this evening.
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