MELBOURNE, Australia – Novak Djokovic said shedding tears in his players’ box following his victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Australian Open final on Sunday, January 29, was the result of an emotional collapse following his huge display of mental strength in a challenging fortnight.
Djokovic called it the “biggest victory” of his career, as he claimed his 22nd Grand Slam title and won back the hearts of the home fans a year after being deported from the country.
Having arrived in Australia unvaccinated 12 months ago, the 10-time Melbourne champion was deported amid a backlash from angry Australians who had endured some of the world’s toughest lockdowns as COVID-19 infections surged.
But the Serbian’s woes are now well behind him and his 6-3, 7-6(4), 7-6(5) victory over Tsitsipas was met with thunderous applause from a packed crowd at Rod Laver Arena.
“I have to say that this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I have played in my life, considering the circumstances,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview.
“Not playing last year, coming back this year. I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome and comfortable to be in Melbourne, Australia.
“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.”
Injury, dad drama
It was an extraordinary two weeks for the Serbian who also managed a hamstring issue and dealt with the distraction of his father posing with fans holding banned Russian flags.
“When I went into my box, I emotionally collapsed there and teared up with my mother and my brother when I gave them a hug,” Djokovic told reporters.
“Because up to that moment, I wasn’t allowing myself to be distracted with things off the court or whatever was happening in dealing with an injury… that could easily have been a big disturbance to my focus, to my game.
“It required enormous mental energy to stay present, to stay focused, to take things day by day and see how far I can go.”
Djokovic’s father skipped the semifinal against American Tommy Paul and was also absent from the title clash.
“I thought things will calm down in terms of the media and everything, but it didn’t. We both agreed it would probably be better that he’s not there,” Djokovic said.
“That hurts me and him a lot because these are very special, unique moments. Who knows if they repeat again. It wasn’t easy for him. I saw him after… though he was happy to hug me, I could see he was a bit sad.
“What he told me is it’s important that I feel good on the court, I win the match and he’s here for me. If it’s going to be better for me… that he’s not in the box, then so be it.
“I’m also sad he was not there in the stands. But he was throughout the entire tournament, so it’s fine. In the end we have a happy ending.”
‘Greatest in our sport’
In a rematch of the 2021 French Open decider, 24-year-old Tsitsipas was unable to convert the few chances he had as he failed to stop Djokovic winning his 22nd Grand Slam title.
“Tough luck tonight, great battle. This is definitely not your last Grand Slam, you still have a lot of time, much more than me,” Djokovic said.
“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.
“He is one of the greatest in our sport and I think he is the greatest that has ever held the tennis racket.
“I would like to thank you for pushing our sport so far and it deserves a player like you who pushes every single player who is involved in this sport.” – Rappler.com
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