Best 8 gamers within the lengthy historical past of fellows’s tennis have received a complete of ten or extra main titles. Novak Djokovic, in fact, is one among them. On Sunday, in Melbourne, on the Australian Open, he received his twenty-second main—his 10th on one courtroom, Rod Laver Enviornment, the primary display courtroom in Melbourne Park. That victory—6–3, 7–6(4), 7–6(5), over Stefanos Tsitsipas—ties him with Rafael Nadal for essentially the most Grand Slam wins by way of any participant within the males’s recreation. Nadal, too, has earned a substantial portion of his main titles on one courtroom, Philippe-Chatrier, the middle courtroom of the Stade Roland Garros, in Paris—13 French Open championships, as astonishing a string of triumphs as has ever been achieved in sports activities. It must take not anything clear of that fulfillment to notice that pro tennis, within the Open generation that started in 1968, has come to be performed most commonly on difficult courts, and that those that play at the males’s excursion have most commonly constructed video games—large serves, large forehands—to win on difficult surfaces. No participant on this generation has but get a hold of a hard-court recreation to compare that of Djokovic. On the trophy rite following Sunday’s championship ultimate, Tsitsipas stated of Djokovic, “He’s the best that has ever held a tennis racquet.” That’s a debate starter. That he performs smarter, extra constant tennis, with fewer weaknesses to probe, than any guy who has ever set foot on a tough floor: no longer a lot room for debate there.
There used to be little dazzle to Djokovic’s straight-set win over Tsitsipas, which, amongst different issues, raised his rating to, as soon as once more, No. 1 on the earth. (He displaces the younger Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who’s injured and used to be compelled to skip the Australian Open.) A Djokovic triumph, extra steadily than no longer, is a methodical grind, an workout in inevitability. That’s what Tsitsipas persevered. The tone of the fit used to be set in its first actual mins. Djokovic held conveniently the primary two occasions he served—his serving all the way through the event used to be excellent, and, in flip, he put relentless force on Tsitsipas’s serve—and he earned two wreck issues (however didn’t convert them) the primary time Tsitsipas served. However Djokovic grabbed a wreck in the second one of Tsitsipas’s provider video games on a double fault, after Tsitsipas went for an excessive amount of as a way to push back a crushing Djokovic go back. How steadily, together with his peerless go back recreation, has Djokovic coaxed that sort error from an opponent? It used to be just about all he had to safe the primary set.
What rigidity there used to be to the fit happened within the tiebreaks that ended the second one and 3rd units. In either one of them, Djokovic established early leads however tightened up—the group strengthen for Tsitsipas from Melbourne’s sizable Greek neighborhood perceived to get to him, particularly in that first tiebreak—and let Tsitsipas again in. That Djokovic went directly to win each tiebreaks had most commonly to do with forehand mistakes from Tsitsipas. Tsitsipas’s perfect shot is his forehand, a protracted, flowing, steadily punishing person who is likely one of the perfect within the recreation. Curiously, Djokovic selected to check it from the outlet moments of the fit—sending ball after ball towards Tsitsipas’s forehand wing, various tempo, top, spin, and intensity, drawing sudden mistakes even in regimen mid-court rallies, and, in all probability, dressed in down Tsitsipas’s self assurance within the shot that he’s maximum assured of. Within the second-set tiebreak, Tsitsipas hit two forehands lengthy and netted every other. In set 3, with Djokovic serving at 6–5 within the tiebreak—championship level—he drove a forehand to Tsitsipas’s forehand nook, and Tsitsipas, at the stretch, sailed one final forehand lengthy. Methodical. Inevitable.
Djokovic’s two weeks in Melbourne weren’t with out drama, or melodrama. He clutched his left hamstring in a tune-up fit ahead of the Australian Open, and, all the way through a lot of his run to the championship in Melbourne, he performed with a taped thigh, which he endured to rub and stretch all the way through fits. As has took place ahead of, there have been questions on the actual extent of Djokovic’s soreness or damage; as has took place ahead of, he selected to lash out at the ones doubting that he used to be harm: “Best my accidents are puzzled. When any other gamers are injured, then they’re the sufferers, but if it’s me, I’m faking it.”
Then, past due final week, a video emerged of Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, celebrating a quarterfinal Djokovic victory Wednesday night time with fanatics at the Australian Open grounds. At the side of fanatics draped in Serbian flags had been the ones maintaining Russian flags, and a person dressed in a T-shirt with the “Z” image, which used to be first noticed hand-painted on Russian tanks initially of the invasion of Ukraine and has since turn into an emblem of strengthen for Russia’s devastating battle. Serbia and Russia are Slavic international locations with lengthy cultural and political ties; Vladimir Putin and his battle have robust strengthen amongst Serbs. Australian Open officers had banned the show of Russian and Belarusian flags. (Russian and Belarusian gamers weren’t known by way of their nations, as is the case for all tennis tournaments because the invasion.) Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia sought after Srdjan stripped of his Australian Open accreditation. Srdjan stated that it used to be all a false impression, and he stayed clear of his son’s participant’s field for his semifinal and the overall. (A few of the Djokovic fanatics who did attend the overall used to be person who waved a skull-and-crossbones Chetnik flag—as soon as the flag of anti-Axis Serb-underground partisans, as of late the flag of ultranationalist proponents of an expanded Christian Orthodox Better Serbia. Possibly it’s time for tournaments to prohibit all flags.)
Each the sore hamstring and the response to his father’s habits weighed on Djokovic, as he comparable in his press convention following the overall. So did what opened up in Melbourne final 12 months. He’d irked, and supplied political fodder for, the Australian executive by way of arriving for the Open with no need won a COVID-19 vaccination and adamantly refusing to get one. It changed into a world fiasco, and he used to be sooner or later deported ahead of the event were given underneath method. A brand new executive welcomed his go back to Melbourne this 12 months. However used to be there anxiousness about returning? Did he arrive with that wounded sense he turns out now and then to domesticate, the sense of being slighted, disrespected? Did that, in flip, gas his commanding efficiency all the way through the previous two weeks? He sobbed uncontrollably in his participant’s field after his victory on Sunday. I’ve noticed numerous Novak Djokovic, however I’ve by no means noticed that. Possibly even he can’t know what he used to be liberating there.
Nor can he know what the remainder of the season holds for him. Overseas nationals will have to be vaccinated towards COVID to go into america. That implies, come March, except he will get vaccinated, he can’t play Indian Wells or the Miami Open, two of the excursion’s greatest hard-court occasions. And, except there’s a transformation ahead of midsummer, he’ll be barred from Cincinnati, every other important American hard-court tourney, and in addition the U.S. Open, with its difficult courts. The arena’s perfect hard-court participant, with, at age thirty-five, a lot more tennis at the back of him than ahead of him, won’t set foot on all that many difficult courts in 2023. The drama, it sort of feels, if no longer Djokovic’s hard-court brilliance, will, within the coming months, proceed. ♦