Grit, tears, joy: Novak Djokovic claims his 10th Australian Open crown, moves closer to ending the GOAT debate

Grit, tears, joy: Novak Djokovic claims his 10th Australian Open crown, moves closer to ending the GOAT debate
  • With this win Djokovic is now tied with Rafael Nadal at 22 Grand Slams.
  • The win also propels him to the top of the ATP rankings for the first time since last June.
  • Djokovic has never lost a semi-final or a final at the Australian Open.

Last year, Novak Djokovic, the then World No 1, landed in Australia to play the Australian Open on January 5 after having received a Visa and a medical exemption from Tennis Australia. On January 16, the Federal Court upheld the Government’s decision to cancel his Visa and Djokovic was deported after a lot of political drama.

Djokovic, who refused to be vaccinated against the COVID vaccine, is definitely the world’s most polarizing athlete. He has categorically refused the Covid vaccine saying that he would want to control what he puts in his body and in February last year confirmed that he is prepared to miss out his place in tennis history for his vaccine stance. While many of his fans and others hailed Djokovic for standing up to his principles and not bowing to the establishment, political writer James Melville compared him to Muhammad Ali because he felt both ‘stuck to their principles even when the world was trying to shut them down.’ Others panned him for being anti-science and even named him No-vax Djo-covid.

After being deported, Djokovic could not defend his points at the Australian Open last year. He won the Wimbledon 2022 but slipped from rank 3 to rank 7 because the ATP and WTA decided not to award points for Wimbledon after the All England Club banned Russian and Belrusian athletes from competing in the tournament over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Plus he was not allowed to play the US Open because of his vaccination stance.

And for all these, yesterday’s victory against Stefanos Tsitsipas was sweeter than all his other grand slam wins. This was his 10th Australian Open victory (making him only the third player and the second male to have won a single grand slam in double digits) and brought him at par with Rafael Nadal’s tally of 22 grand slams, a statistic which is often used to settle the greatest of all time (GOAT) debate. Last year, Nadal had won the Australian Open and gone ahead in the race. The other of the big three, Federer, now retired, has a count of 20. Plus, it also propelled him to Number 1 of the Pepperstone ATP rankings, for the first time since last June, his 374th week as world number 1, more than a year longer than any man in history (Roger Federer at 310 weeks is second).

Here was someone, who had achieved most of the Tennis accolades in his career, but yet had a lot to prove and be accepted as the best ever or even considered as equal to Federer and Nadal. But this victory has changed that.

One cannot but help draw a parallel with another legend, Lionel Messi, who had achieved everything anyway, but still needed to win a World Cup to cement his legacy as one of the greatest ever.

Like a lot of times in the past, the Australian Open has brought to the fore Djokovic’s ability to block all outside distractions and focus on what he does best- play tennis. He started the tournament with a hamstring injury, missed practice sessions and played heavily strapped, but that was one reason he kept his points short and won every match since the third round in straight sets. Also, this time around, he seemed like a man possessed, a man on a mission and his ruthless thrashing of Alex De Minaur in the fourth round, if not in a tennis court, would be akin to committing one of the cruelest human rights violations ever. He also had to battle controversy when his father was photographed with a pro-Putin fan, which Djokovic clarified was not intentional.

This was not the first time Djokovic has come out victorious battling external distractions, especially the crowd. Let us go back to the Wimbledon 2019 final, which he won coming from two match points down in the 16th game of the deciding set, after being outplayed by Federer for most of the match. He was asked how he managed to focus on his game even as the whole stadium was overwhelmingly pro-Federer. "I like to transmute it in a way: When the crowd is chanting 'Roger' I hear 'Novak. It sounds silly, but it is like that," he said. It has been proved time and again that Djokovic possesses immense mental strength, something that sets him apart from his peers.

After donning a jacket with the number 22 emblazoned on the front during the award ceremony, Djokoic said, "To be honest, maybe people won't believe me, but I had no clue about this jacket.” But whether we believe him or not, one thing is clear. Djokovic certainly believes in himself and his ability to win. And with him reclaiming his ‘King of Melbourne Park’ tag, the line between revenge and redemption has been blurred.

This could definitely be Djokovic’s Messi moment, but interestingly, even at 35 years old, he can play a few more years of top level tennis. If he manages to win three more grand slams, as many of his die hard fans believe he can, he would break Margaret Court’s record as the one with the highest number of singles grand slams (male or female) with 24. And in doing so he will surely end the GOAT debate once and for all.