On winning his 10th Australian Open on Sunday night, Novak Djokovic didn’t scream or hurl his racquet in the air but instead looked to his box and pointed to his temple.
Indestructible, unassailable, he was saying, won in the head.
And really it was.
Rafael Nadal’s long-time coach Uncle Toni has always said that however physically impressive Rafa is, he’s even stronger in his mind.
We can include Novak Djokovic in that sentiment too. Very much so.
By beating a resilient and first-class Stefanos Tsitsipas – who, let’s be honest, never had a hope, no one did – Djokovic now has 22 major titles (grand slams), level with Nadal as the best ever.
He has been planning and living this, minute by minute, ever since arriving in Australia 34 days ago.
Make no mistake, this was the most meticulous and cathartic of campaigns.
The 2022 deportation? Gone. The great champion? Now and forever.
“He is the greatest who has ever held a tennis racquet,” confirmed a very gracious Tsitsipas.
“I am touched by Stefanos’ words,” retorted Djokovic, who assumed the statesman role and talked about dreaming big.
“It doesn’t matter where you are coming from, the more challenges you have the stronger you become.”
Nurture and water your dreams, he said, and dream big because you can make it.
“This trophy is yours as much as it is mine,” he said to his team in the stands before talking about how this AO had been one of the most challenging tournaments of his life.
“Only the team and family knows what we have been through in the past four or five weeks. It’s probably the biggest victory of my life.”
More records to break
The four-time AO champion Ken Rosewall presented the trophy to Djokovic. It was 19 years between Ken’s first win here, in 1953, and his last. Another record for Novak to aim for?
Number 22 though was in the stars from the moment Novak appeared on court minus the heavy strapping around his much-studied thigh.
It was no longer there, no longer needed, surplus. Tsitsipas will have noticed pronto, everyone else present did.
One nil to Novak and soon he was a set down, in just 36 minutes. It wasn’t so much that he played badly but that he didn’t play at all. Djokovic wouldn’t let him.
The following set was better, the most delicate of drop shots by Tsitsipas at 3-2 brought a crowd eruption but the Serb smashed away the next point and clouted away the point after and the game was gone just a minute after it threatened a revival. It was the story of the match.
For long spells the Greek could live with the Serb but he couldn’t take it on and get past him. A neck-and-neck second set – there was just one break point, and that to Tsitsipas – fell, predictably the Serb’s way on a tiebreak.
A habitual toilet break for Djokovic at the two-set mark complete, he reappeared in a new, business-blue shirt to wrap up the tournament.
The third set copied its predecessor, tight all the way, some classic stroke play from both ends and Djokovic then untroubled in the tiebreak.
Third time lucky
At 6-3 up and with three match points Djokovic urged the crowd on but assistance of any sort was not needed.
Chances one and two went missing but on the third he rifled a forehand that clipped the line and he was done, 6-3 7-6 7-6 – each of the last two sets taking 70 minutes.
He had looked the part all night.
Remember when Andre Agassi had a designer shirt that was shorter at the front than the back and flew up flamboyantly when he belted a forehand?
Djokovic can do that in a regulation shirt such was his power and intent. Should he have tattooed ‘Champion’ or ’22’ or similar across his stomach last night we could have seen and read it time and again.
Tweet from @AustralianOpen
All the while, another equally visible statement of intent was taking part outside RLA.
‘Stop Serbing’ is a chide long used by the Serbian community against its own. Don’t worry is the gist, chill. Everything will be OK.
Any Serbs inclined to such thinking on Sunday will have been in the tiniest minority. There are 15,000 seats on RLA and on Sunday there were a further 30,000 supporters milling around Melbourne Park, many of them of Serbian loyalty.
They had been there since early afternoon, belongings draped over many of the deckchair-style seats in the way towels commandeer the best loungers at a hotel swimming pool.
Come 10.30pm it was bedlam, not in an aggressive manner but really you’d need to be backing Novak to enjoy it.
Greek support was plentiful but seemed camped largely within Rod Laver Arena, fluttering fitfully to life in tandem with its hero.
They knew what was coming. We all did.
Tweet from @AustralianOpen
Start of something special
Djokovic won his first title here in 2008, against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in four sets. It was another two years before he added another major, again in Melbourne, Andy Murray this time the victim.
He has wobbled. From the French Open in 2012 to the French in 2014 he played six major finals but won only one, the Australian Open of course in 2013, Andy Murray once more the final victim.
Now of his past 20 major finals, he has won 16.
He does not come with the panache of Federer nor the thump of Majorca’s finest but he gets it done, cleanly and without fuss.
He now holds 22 grand slams – including 10 Australian Opens – but it’s almost as if by becoming fixated on his numbers we have overlooked his brilliance. And which, unlike his trophies, is immeasurable.
There was one man who looked like a Greek god, but there was another who played like one.
Last night and for the past 15 years, we really have been in the presence of greatness.