Australian Open: Djokovic back on top of the world a year after Melbourne misery
A year after hitting an all-time low when he lost a court battle in Melbourne, Novak Djokovic was back on top of the world and in floods of tears as he celebrated a record-equalling grand slam triumph on Sunday.
Djokovic endured a nightmare start to 2022 when he was deported from Australia for breaching border entry rules, having arrived in the country believing he had a valid medical exemption that would enable him to play in the first major of the year without being vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Serbian superstar suffered the humiliation of flying home after his visa was cancelled and he failed with an appeal in a Federal Court.
He had been consigned to the Park Hotel immigration detention facility during a miserable short stay in a country where he loves playing the most and has experienced unprecedented success.
Djokovic will head home with very different emotions this time around after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets to match Rafael Nadal's tally of 22 major singles titles for a male player.
The 35-year-old was also unable to play in the US Open last September due to not being vaccinated, but normal service was resumed as he claimed a record-extending 10th Australian Open title with a 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-5) triumph.
Djokovic could do nothing to prevent Nadal from lifting the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup 12 months ago, but nothing was going to stop him getting his hands on the trophy on Sunday.
Tsitsipas put up a courageous fight, but one of the all-time greats was a cut above as he continued his astonishing domination of the first major of the year.
Not since Hyeon Chung produced a huge fourth-round upset in 2018 has the Belgrade native been beaten in the Australian Open, this victory extending his winning streak in Melbourne to a staggering 28 matches.
Tsitsipas, 11 years younger than his legendary opponent, declared he was physically and mentally ready for the huge challenge of facing Djokovic in his first Australian Open final.
The third seed from Greece led Djokovic by two sets in his only other major final, but was consigned to defeat in a 2021 French Open thriller.
There was no such drama on this occasion, as the favourite maintained his perfect record in Australian Open finals 15 years after he was first crowned champion at Melbourne Park.
He served brilliantly, once again demonstrated why he is widely regarded as the best returner of all time, and showed no signs of a hamstring injury that was probably the only thing that would have stopped him from securing yet another title.
Djokovic had to contend with questions about his father, Srdjan, posing with a group of men waving Russian flags that have been banned from the grounds during this tournament earlier this week but nothing was going to distract him in his quest to make history.
He was clinical and drowned out noise from rowdy spectators that were ticked off by the chair umpire time and again as he won another battle between youth and experience.
There were 36 winners from king of Rod Laver Arena and only 22 unforced errors, while he ruthlessly took charge of the tie-breaks as Tsitsipas was made to pay for mistakes at such key moments.
Fourth seed Djokovic orchestrated the crowd with his racket after earning two match points and his emotions came out after he climbed up to his box, where he was mobbed by his team.
He sobbed during a long embrace with his mother, Dijana, and dropped to the floor a year after he was floored by being unable to play in a tournament where he has taken on all comers.
Djokovic described this as his biggest victory given what he has had to endure and it lifted him back to the top of the rankings.
It was the 93rd ATP Tour title of his career and came on the back of winning a tournament in Adelaide in a dream start to 2023.
Twelve months after he detained, his rivals were unable to contain him and it would be a surprise if he has not moved beyond Nadal's tally of grand slam triumphs by the end of year.