Djokovic wins Australian Open
Published: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 3:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 3:56 p.m.
MELBOURNE, Australia - Novak Djokovic withstood the expected barrage from upstart Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first set, then rallied to win the Australian Open for his first Grand Slam title.
Djokovic fended off the Muhammad Ali lookalike 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (2) in the final on Sunday night, ending a sequence of 11 straight majors won by either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal since Marat Safin's victory in 2005.
Djokovic had not lost a set in six matches leading into the final, including his semifinal win over two-time defending champion Federer.
But with unseeded Tsonga coming out swinging like he did in his straight-sets upset over No. 2 Nadal in the semifinals and three other top 14 players, that streak came to a sudden end.
The third-ranked Djokovic rebounded in the second and third sets, and after saving a crucial breakpoint in the fourth, dominated the tiebreaker to clinch his first major at his 13th attempt.
"You feel the expectations and pressure, so I'm very happy with the way I dealt with the pressure," Djokovic said. "Coming on against a player with nothing to lose — he was going for the shots and he was very dangerous, especially in the first set — I was pretty nervous."
The 20-year-old Djokovic was the youngest player since Stefan Edberg defeated Mats Wilander in 1985 to win the Australian title and the first man from Serbia to win a major.
Tsonga, who had been so aggressive earlier in the tournament, seemed more content to rally from the baseline, especially after getting passed several times.
"He was very dangerous," Djokovic said. "I was aware of that fact, but I was trying to stay with him because I knew sooner or later, with my style of game, I could get in control of the match, which I did in the middle of the second set."
Along with Tsonga, he had to overcome cramps.
Djokovic got treatment on the back of his left thigh while holding for a 3-2 lead in the fourth set, then fended off a break point while serving at 5-5.
Wanting to finish it off quickly, he raced through the tiebreaker — with some help from Tsonga, who double-faulted to make it 5-1 and then sent a running forehand long to give Djokovic four championship points.
He only needed one as Tsonga hit a forehand wide.
Djokovic fell on his back, then got up to shake hands with Tsonga and put his arm around the Frenchman. He got on his knees and kissed the court, shook hands with his family, then tossed two rackets into the stands before burying his face in a towel.
"First, before I thank everybody in this world, I want to thank everybody in my box, who've supported me all the way through, not just these two weeks, all the way in my life," Djokovic said. "Thank you very much, I love you."
His father, mother and two younger brothers wore white track suits and sat in order with letters on the front spelling out Djokovic's nickname, Nola.
"Second of course Jo. Unbelievable tournament and you should be proud of yourself — if he won tonight it would be absolutely deserved, so well done for his success."
Djokovic, who has had an unsteady relationship with the Melbourne Park crowd, won them back with his post-match speech.
"I know the crowd wanted him to win more," Djokovic said. "That's OK, it's all right. I still love you guys, don't worry. I'm very, very happy that I won my first Grand Slam here, so hopefully we'll see you here on this stage a lot more often in the future."
Tsonga said he was proud of himself.
"I don't know if I have to be sad or happy of this final, but I feel great," Tsonga said. "I'm happy for Novak, because he played unbelievable today."
Tsonga, ranked 38th coming into his fifth major, will move up to No. 18 after advancing past the fourth round for the first time.
He was aiming to be the first Frenchman in 80 years to win the Australian title and the first to win any of the four Grand Slams since Yannick Noah's win at Roland Garros in 1983.
Tsonga believes he has the game to break into the top 10.
"Not everybody can beat players who I beat," he said. "It's very difficult, and I did it, so of course, I'm confident now."
Rod Laver Arena was packed and awash in red, white and blue, the national colors of both countries, but there was little doubt that the rowdy crowd's loyalties were with underdog Tsonga, who has delighted fans with his ebullient personality and go-for-broke style.
A portrait of Ali, a racket sketched in one hand, was taped to the stadium wall. Tsonga sprinted onto the court for warmups ahead of the match.
Tsonga picked up his game when it appeared the first set was headed for a tiebreaker. He blasted three aces to take a 5-4 lead, then came up with two great shots to break Djokovic.
Serving at 30-30, Djokovic had an easy overhead, but didn't do enough with it. Tsonga ripped a forehand crosscourt passing shot for a winner, then raised his racket and roared with the crowd.
Another good forehand winner finished off the set, and Tsonga went down on one knee to pump his fist before dancing over to his chair to a standing ovation.
Djokovic refused to crumble. He never faced a break point in the second and third sets, yielding only 10 points in his nine service games.
Djokovic said he planned to spend a couple of weeks off to enjoy the celebrations.
"It's my first major, but it's just the start of a long season," he said.
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