An emotional Novak Djokovic described his record-equalling 22nd grand slam title as the biggest victory of his life.
A year after seeing Rafael Nadal pull ahead in the all-time men’s standings while he tried to process the fall-out from his deportation from Australia, Djokovic has been determined to show that Rod Laver Arena is his stage.
He dropped just one set all tournament – despite saying he feared a left hamstring problem might force him to withdraw – and finished with a 6-3 7-6 (4) 7-6 (5) victory over first-time Australian Open finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas to claim a 10th title in Melbourne.
His status in Australia, meanwhile, is unmatched, with the 35-year-old winning a 28th consecutive Australian Open match and a 41st in a row in the country as a whole.
After sealing victory, Djokovic climbed into the stands to celebrate with his team and family and was overcome with emotion, lying on the ground and sobbing uncontrollably.
Speaking on court in a jacket bearing the number 22, Djokovic said: “This has been one of the most challenging tournaments I’ve ever played in my life.
“Not playing last year, coming back this year. I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome, made me feel comfortable to be in Melbourne, to be in Australia.
“There’s a reason I’ve played my best tennis on this court. Only my team and my family know what we’ve been through in the last four, five weeks. This probably is the biggest victory in my life considering the circumstances.”
There are large Greek and Serbian communities in Melbourne and the atmosphere was reminiscent of a football match, with fans decked in their country’s colours and umpire Louise Azemar Engzell constantly appealing for quiet during points.
Both men received raucous welcomes, but the reception for Djokovic was just a little bit louder and his fans soon had plenty to cheer.
If the Serbian has been vulnerable in slam finals over the past couple of years, it has tended to be early on, with Djokovic losing the first set on four-consecutive occasions, including against Tsitsipas in the Greek’s only previous final at the French Open in 2021.
There Djokovic went two sets down but still came back to win. He was in no mood for a repeat here, though, looking supremely sharp from the start, forcing Tsitsipas to save two break points in his opening service game and then breaking to lead 3-1.
He was serving with more authority and finding greater depth and penetration on his groundstrokes, although he was still reluctant to venture to the net.
Djokovic no longer looked quite so sure of himself, gesticulating frequently to his box, which was again without father Srdjan, who opted to stay away from Melbourne Park for another match after being filmed with pro-Russia activists last week – inadvertently, the family insisted.
The Serbian took a heavy tumble in the seventh game and at 4-5 he missed a routine backhand to give Tsitsipas a set point.
Chances will always be at a premium against Djokovic and taking them is paramount but Tsitsipas was again too charitable at the start of the third set, finally breaking serve only to hand the advantage straight back.
He was at least able to repel Djokovic’s pressure to force a second tie-break only to find himself 5-0 down. He battled back with some of his best tennis of the match but a forehand that just caught the line was enough for Djokovic to clinch his second match point.