MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic said his win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday's (Jan 29) Australian Open final was the "biggest victory" of his career, as he claimed his 22nd Grand Slam title and won back the hearts of the home fans a year after being deported from the country.
Having arrived in Australia unvaccinated 12 months ago, the 10-times Melbourne champion was deported amid a backlash from angry Australians who had endured some of the world's toughest lockdowns as COVID-19 infections surged.
But the Serbian's woes are now well behind him and his 6-3 7-6(4) 7-6(5) victory over Tsitsipas was met with thunderous applause from a packed crowd at Rod Laver Arena.
"I have to say that this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I have played in my life, considering the circumstances," Djokovic said in his on-court interview.
"Not playing last year, coming back this year. I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome and comfortable to be in Melbourne, Australia.
"I try to pinch myself and really live through these moments and it's a long journey ... Only the team and family knows what we have been through in the last four to five weeks. This, probably, is the biggest victory in my life considering the circumstances."
In a rematch of the 2021 French Open decider, 24-year-old Tsitsipas was unable to convert the few chances he had as he failed to stop Djokovic winning his 22nd Grand Slam title.
"Tough luck tonight, great battle. This is definitely not your last Grand Slam, you still have a lot of time, much more than me," Djokovic said.
"I would also like to congratulate your family and your team ... You are one of the most professional tennis players that I know on the tour, and one of the most interesting guys."
Tsitsipas, who fell short of becoming the first Greek tennis player to win a Grand Slam, commended Djokovic's contribution to the sport.
"I have had the privilege to play a lot of high intensity matches, but I would like to say one more time that Novak brings the best out of me and these are the matches I have been working my entire life for," Tsitsipas said.
"He is one of the greatest in our sport and I think he is the greatest that has ever held the tennis racket.
"I would like to thank you for pushing our sport so far and it deserves a player like you who pushes every single player who is involved in this sport."