Even on one fully functioning leg, Novak Djokovic is again the world’s best player.
His tennis had never been in question in his dethroning from the top spot. Instead, he was left to tumble down the rankings because of his deportation from Australia last year, the lack of ranking points in winning Wimbledon and his exclusion from the US Open over his refusal to have the Covid vaccine.
He has won 30 of 31 matches since his return to the ATP Tour post-Wimbledon, and his 10th Australian Open title puts him level with Rafael Nadal on 22 Grand Slam career titles. With Nadal battling to recover from a hip injury in time for the clay-court season, the signs are ominous, with Djokovic heading to the French Open and then Wimbledon.
Djokovic has been maligned for making much of his injuries, rightly arguing he is not given the sympathy awarded his peers. His coach, Goran Ivanisevic, suggested virtually no other player could have gone through the pain that Djokovic had done during the Australian Open fortnight.
“He is from outer space,” said the former Wimbledon champion. “His brain is working different. He gave everything, 77 therapies a day. Every day was kind of better and better.”
Australian Open 2023 - In pictures
Regularly, he called for medical timeouts to treat his left hamstring, particularly in the earlier rounds. By the fourth round, though, he looked unstoppable, adding to the remarkable statistic of never having lost an Australian Open Final in 10 attempts.
It was not that his opponent, Stefanos Tsitsipas, had a particularly bad day. The Greek had looked the most likely player to push Djokovic but, in the end, he managed to take just 15 games off him. The statistics did not say that there was much between them, Djokovic converting two breaks from a possible five in contrast to Tsitsipas’s one from three. But what they did not show was that the 35-year-old Serbian always looked in command.
Afterwards, it begged the question how much more was possible from Djokovic. Roger Federer is months into retirement, while Nadal is battling to recover from yet another injury.
For Djokovic, even with his hamstring needing further examination and treatment, he has no plans to pack up just yet.
“I feel game-wise, physically, I can still sustain and maintain the top level,” he said. “So, as long as that’s the case, why not keep going? I don’t know when the end is going to come. Right now, I have the motivation, I have professional goals and ambitions. Those are Grand Slams and being No1 in the world. I do want to make the most history in this sport.
“I don’t have any intention of stopping here. I feel great about my tennis. I have a chance to win any Slam against anybody. There’s still a lot of fire inside of me that is burning of passion for the sport and for competition.”
Quite what the numbers will be when retirement comes remain to be seen. John McEnroe suggested Djokovic would raise the bar to 25 Grand Slam titles, and that his greater athleticism was the difference between him and the others.
Djokovic is due to play again in Dubai in a month’s time, but suggested that could be in doubt, depending on his medical check-ups as he gets to grip with the hamstring issue that meant his leg was heavily strapped during his matches. It also reduced his practice to virtually nil, making this win all the more impressive.
Added to the backdrop of this victory was the journey to get here, that deportation 12 months ago and the furore concerning his father filmed with pro-Vladimir Putin Russian fans.
Nick Kyrgios, who if fit may have been one of those to have challenged Djokovic, suggested his vilification had created a “monster” on the court as he posted his congratulations.
As for the celebrations, Djokovic claimed it had been spent with media and at doping control, and with a beer under duress from Ivanisevic. As for the future, Djokovic said simply: “I like my chances going forward.”