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Melbourne, Australia – Novak Djokovic has found this trip to Australia a lot less complicated and a lot more successful than it was a year ago.

Unable to enter his best event of 2022 after being deported from the country because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19, Djokovic achieved everything he wanted in his comeback: he resumed his winning ways at Melbourne Park and returned to the top of tennis.

Djokovic had only a brief challenge in Sunday night’s final, simply bettered in the decisive moments and outlasted Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6(4), 7-6(5) to claim a record tenth Australian Open and record title. 22 in the Grand Slams. As a bonus, Djokovic will jump from fifth to number one in the ATP rankings, a place he has already held for more weeks than any other player.

“It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever held a tennis racket,” said Tsitsipas.

Djokovic extended his unbeaten streak in Melbourne to 28 matches, the longest in a tournament for a man in the Open Era, dating back to 1968. He added his 10th trophy there to seven from Wimbledon, and three from the US Open – where he also missed last year. Due to the lack of infection with the Corona virus – and two in the French Open to match his rival Rafael Nadal for more than one player in the history of tennis.

Margaret Court, 24, Serena Williams, 23, and Stevie Graf, 22, have the most among the women.

It was also the 93rd ATP Tour title for Djokovic, allowing the 35-year-old from Serbia to break a tie with Nadal for fourth. Jimmy Connors holds this mark at 109.

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Djokovic was appearing in his 33rd World Cup final, and Tsitsipas in his second – the 24-year-old from Greece also finished another loss to Djokovic, at the 2021 French Open.

He was superior throughout against Tsitsipas, but especially in the tie-break. He went 4-1 first and after being 4-all, pulled three points in a row. He led 5-0 in the closing tiebreaker, and when it was over, he pointed at his temples and then ran up to the stands, pumped his fist and jumped with his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, and other members of his entourage, and broke down crying.

Few doubt this is no consolation for Tsitsipas, but there is no shame in failing to defeat Djokovic in Melbourne. Challenging his dominance on those blue hard courts is every time a monumental undertaking like taking on Nadal on the red clay at Roland Garros.

Perhaps surprisingly, Tsitsipas was willing to engage in the kind of foot-aching, lung-burning sprinting that Djokovic has built his superlative career on. How do you work it out? Of the points that lasted at least five strokes, Djokovic won 43, Tsitsipas 30,

Then again, on those rare occasions that Tsitsipas did find the net, he likely regretted the choice, as Djokovic often conjured up a passing shot that was difficult to handle.

Another of Djokovic’s strengths is the rematch, and he collected three break points in the space of 17 minutes, turning the latter into a quick 3-1 lead when Tsitsipas double-faulted.

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The trophy they were playing for was displayed on a plinth near a corner of the field, and both men had it on hand whenever they walked around in the towels between points at that end.

Pretty close, yes, but for Tsitsipas, it’s never close enough.

It’s not like Tsitsipas played all this badly, other than a series of early misses that seemed more like a product of stress than anything else.

Simply put, Djokovic was just too good. Extremely accurate in his strikes – making only 22 unforced errors, 20 fewer than his opponent – and predictable. Very quick and fluid chase shots (other than one point per second, when Djokovic was running to his left, stumbling). Very dangerous with his return and damaging enough with his strikes.

Djokovic pushes and pushes and pushes more, until the opponent is less than perfect on one shot, either missing or providing an opportunity to pounce.

There has been more than forehands and backhands on Djokovic’s mind over the past two weeks.

There was a not so small issue in last year’s legal saga — he alternately admitted the whole thing was a form of prodding, but also said the other day, “I’m over it” — and curious as to what kind of reception it would get.

He heard plenty of vocal support, but he also dealt with some constant harassment during the competition, including applause after Sunday’s fouls.

A sore left hamstring that was covered hard every game – until the final, when only one piece of beige athletic tape was visible – was bothering him at the start of week 1, leading him to resort to what he said were “too many” pills. Pain relief and other treatments not mentioned in detail.

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Then there was the more complicated affair for his father, Srdjan, as he was photographed with a group of people holding Russian flags – one of them holding a picture of Vladimir Putin – after Djokovic’s quarter-final victory. The tournament banned fans from bringing the flags of Russia or Belarus, saying it would lead to disruption due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Both Djokovic and his father said it was a misunderstanding, based on Srjan’s belief that he was with a group of Serbian fans.

Because of that episode, Serjan Djokovic didn’t attend his son’s semi-final victory over Tommy Paul on Friday, and he wasn’t seen at Djokovic’s gym on Sunday.

No matter what, Djokovic manages to excel as he often does, winning 17 straight sets after conceding one in the second round last week.

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