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HIGHLIGHTS: Djokovic wins a record-tying 22nd Grand Slam singles title

Looking back, you could see what was coming in the second game of the match.

Stefanos Tsitsipas began the opening rally by backpedaling into his backhand corner and rifling a forehand down the line. He hit the ball crisply enough that it looked for a split second as if it would go for a winner. A few of his supporters started to call out in celebration, the way they had been calling out for Tsitsipas over the last two weeks in Melbourne. This time, though, that celebration was premature. This time, Tsitsipas’ opponent, Novak Djokovic, got there in time to return the ball.

On the next shot, Tsitsipas rifled another forehand to the opposite corner. Again, it looked as if he had hit it well enough to win the point. Again, there was noise from the crowd. And again Djokovic was there. So Tsitsipas had to start all over and hit yet another forehand. This time it caught the net. He had lost the point, and Djokovic’s fans had a chance to celebrate for real.

Djokovic didn’t break serve in that game; he was a little too edgy to close the deal so early. But he had set a new standard for Tsitsipas, and sent a message across the net: “As well as you’ve played during this tournament, Stefanos, that level isn’t going to cut it today.”

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Djokovic will vault from No. 5 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, a spot he already has held for more weeks than any other man.

Djokovic will vault from No. 5 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, a spot he already has held for more weeks than any other man.

And it didn’t. From the start of his 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) win, Djokovic broke his opponent’s strengths down, and made sure the match was played on his terms.

Tstsipas’ serve had been a difference-maker for him in his previous six rounds. It wasn’t in this one. Instead, he saw many of his best first serves come back with depth and pace. From the ground, Tsitsipas likely expected Djokovic to go after his weaker backhand. Instead, Djokovic went straight into his forehand and forced him to hit it from a defensive position. Tsitsipas could never really get on his front foot in this match, could never use his dynamic forward movement to apply pressure; he made it to net just 17 times over three sets, and committed 20 more errors than Djokovic (42 to 22). It was Djokovic’s heavy but safe ground strokes—particularly his crosscourt forehand—that won the day.

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He’s very important for us that want to get to his point one day. Getting our asses kicked is for sure a very good lesson every single time. Stefanos Tsitsipas

According to his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, the hamstring injury that Djokovic nursed through the early rounds helped him go bigger from the forehand side.

“I’ve been impressed by his forehand all this year,” Ivanisevic said. “Kind of when he got injured, he needed to be more aggressive. He stepped up and he was smacking forehands unbelievable…Today was probably the worst forehands from all these matches. But still, when he needed, he played great tennis and he was hitting good forehands.”

Not surprisingly, Djokovic came up with perhaps the best of those forehands on the most important point of the evening.

By the middle of the second set, Tsitsipas had his teeth into the match. He was controlling play, holding serve comfortably and goading on his fans, who finally had something to celebrate. When Tsitsipas reached set point with Djokovic serving at 4-5, the match seemed poised to become a dogfight, and possibly a classic. But Djokovic made sure it didn’t. He moved forward a step, pushed Tsitsipas back, and finished the point with a confident forehand winner. Danger, and dogfight, averted.

“I saw him play; I saw how dominant he was, as well,” Djokovic said of Tsitsipas. “I knew that it’s going to be a big challenge and that I have to stay tough. That’s what I’ve done.

“I think I started off really well. Pretty short time for the play of the first set, I think about 30, 35 minutes. Then second set he was a better player. He had his chances. Didn’t use them. He had a set point. I just held my nerves in both tiebreaks in second and third.”

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There was plenty for Djokovic and his legions of fans to celebrate.

There was plenty for Djokovic and his legions of fans to celebrate.

Tsitsipas, who reached his first Australian Open final, refused to be disappointed in the result, and claimed he was happy to get another lesson from the master.

“I did everything possible in order to get a good match against him,” he said. “There’s nothing that I could have extracted more for today. I did everything possible.

“Novak is a player that pushes you to your limits. I don’t see this as a curse….He’s very important for us that want to get to his point one day. Getting our asses kicked is for sure a very good lesson every single time.”

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Djokovic exits Melbourne with his 10th Australian Open title and his 22nd major, which leaves him tied with Rafael Nadal for the men’s record. It didn’t take long for the talk to move to Paris.

“We have 22-22,” Ivanisevic said. “Two unbelievable competitors, two unbelievable tennis players, what they did for the tennis. I’m looking forward. Looking forward, honestly, for both of them to be super healthy, then battle is there.”

It’s 2023 and the biggest story in men’s tennis is another looming showdown at Roland Garros between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Watching Djokovic’s clinical, unbending performance today, and knowing Nadal’s brilliance on clay, I, like Goran, wouldn’t want it any other way.