Novak Djokovic defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas to win a 10th Australian Open and move level with Rafael Nadal on a men’s record 22 grand slam titles.
The Serbian was deported from Australia 12 months ago amid a political storm over his exemption for the Covid vaccine, but has made a triumphant return to the court with a historic victory on Rod Laver Arena.
The 35-year-old defeated Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6, 7-6 in just under three hours to maintain his perfect record in Australian Open finals. Djokovic has now won all 10 of his showpiece appearances in Melbourne and extends his winning streak at Melbourne Park to 28 matches.
It also moves Djokovic level with Nadal in the grand slam race, after the Spaniard edged ahead by winning the Australian Open in Djokovic’s absence and the French Open to reach a men’s record 22 titles.
The Serbian took the first set of the final with minimal fuss but his Greek opponent had a glorious opportunity to level the match, when he brought up set point at 5-4 on the Djokovic serve in the second. However, the 35-year-old found a forehand winner down the line to save it and went on to clinch the set himself after a tiebreak.
After the pair traded breaks at the start of the third set, they both held serve the rest of the way to force another tiebreak where a couple of early mini-breaks set the stage for Djokovic to win it 7-5 and he pointed to his head and his heart before the tears flowed with emotion at equalling Nadal’s record.
Djokovic had won his seventh Wimbledon last summer to capture his 21st title and although he was unable to play in the US Open due to his vaccination status, the Serbian was allowed to return to Australia when his three-year visa ban was overturned.
Djokovic received a warm welcome as he made his comeback at the Adelaide International earlier this month, before his fans flocked to the Rod Laver Arena to take in his opening victory over Roberto Carballes Baena, creating a party atmosphere that was a clear contrast to the animosity his unvaccinated arrival in Australia last year created.
Djokovic said the reception he received from the Melbourne crowd this year was beyond his wildest dreams, but the 35-year-old also faced some uncomfortable moments upon his return. Djokovic had to battle a hamstring injury during the early rounds, as well as accusations that he was faking the injury in order to get an edge over his opponents.
Djokovic faced the occasional heckler but returned to a dominant level as he crushed Alex De Minaur and Andrey Rublev in the second week. However, the Serbian was dragged into further controversy after pro-Russian demonstrators gathered outside the Rod Laver Arena following his victory over the Russian player Rublev, and his father Srdjan was filmed posing for pictures with supporters of Vladimir Putin.