Emotionally drained Djokovic savours happy end to difficult fortnight

Having arrived in Australia unvaccinated 12 months ago, the 10-time Melbourne champion was deported amid a backlash from angry Australians

Published : 29 Jan 2023, 03:46 PM
Updated : 29 Jan 2023, 03:46 PM

Novak Djokovic said shedding tears in his players' box following victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Australian Open final on Sunday was the result of an emotional collapse following his huge display of mental strength in a challenging fortnight.

Djokovic overcame Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6(4), 7-6(5) in a repeat of their 2021 French Open final to claim a record-extending 10th title at Melbourne Park, draw level with Rafa Nadal on 22 Grand Slam crowns and reclaim the world number one ranking aged 35.

It was an extraordinary two weeks for the Serbian who also managed a hamstring issue and dealt with the emotions of playing a year after his deportation from Australia and the distraction of his father posing with fans holding banned Russian flags.

"When I went into my box, I emotionally collapsed there and teared up with my mother and my brother when I gave them a hug," Djokovic told reporters.

"Because up to that moment, I wasn't allowing myself to be distracted with things off the court or whatever was happening in dealing with an injury... that could easily have been a big disturbance to my focus, to my game.

"It required enormous mental energy to stay present, to stay focused, to take things day by day and see how far I can go."

Djokovic said he was more nervous than usual coming into the tournament after his deportation 12 months ago due to being unvaccinated against COVID, with his return possible only after his three-year visa ban was waived in November.

"I didn't know how I was going to be received by the people but overall, it was a very positive experience," said Djokovic, who also received a warm reception en route to the title at the Adelaide warm-up event where he injured his hamstring.

Adding to his troubles was the drama surrounding his father Srdjan, after a video emerged showing him with fans holding Russian flags banned early in the tournament.

Djokovic senior skipped his son's semi-final against American Tommy Paul and was also absent from the title clash.

"I thought things will calm down in terms of the media and everything, but it didn't. We both agreed it would probably be better that he's not there," Djokovic said.

"That hurts me and him a lot because these are very special, unique moments. Who knows if they repeat again. It wasn't easy for him. I saw him after... though he was happy to hug me, I could see he was a bit sad.

"What he told me is it's important that I feel good on the court, I win the match and he's here for me. If it's going to be better for me... that he's not in the box, then so be it.

"I'm also sad he was not there in the stands. But he was throughout the entire tournament, so it's fine. In the end we have a happy ending."