No male player in recent history has probably used pain and disappointment as motivations for victory quite like Novak Djokovic. A year ago, the Serb was on a self-deceiving spiral, ejected from Australia — where he was a three-time defending champion — over his unvaccinated status. On Sunday, he did more than enough to banish those difficult memories by claiming a record-extending tenth Australian Open singles title (Open Era). The straight sets win over Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas also drew Djokovic level with Rafael Nadal’s tally of 22 Major trophies, the best among men. The triumph capped an incredible 12 months for Djokovic. In 2022, he was not allowed to compete in two of the four Grand Slam tournaments and four of the eight ATP Masters 1000s, and received no points for winning Wimbledon. Yet, he finished in the top-5, claiming a joint-best five titles (with Carlos Alcaraz). The successes earlier this month at the Adelaide International, and subsequently Melbourne, have brought him back to what has always seemed his rightful place — the pinnacle of ATP rankings, for a record 374th week. Barely four months shy of turning 36, Djokovic is at a stage where an athlete’s physical prowess — regardless of the indomitable will — is expected to enter the past tense. While this appears increasingly true of Nadal, Djokovic’s mask of invincibility looks firmly intact.
On the women’s side, Aryna Sabalenka’s tennis was as picture perfect, as she secured her first Major title with a fine come-from-behind victory over Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina, also the reigning Wimbledon champion. Tipped for big things in 2021 when she reached the last four at Wimbledon and the US Open, and having finished the year ranked No.2, the heavy-hitting Belarusian has had to play much of the last 12 months against the sobering backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war and the emotional toll of having to compete as a neutral athlete. It was to the 24-year-old’s credit that she did not let any of this derail her pursuit of excellence, becoming only the second from her country after Victoria Azarenka — who made a stirring run to the semifinals before falling to Rybakina — to win a singles Major. A similar bolt by Sania Mirza in her last Slam appearance had the whole of India transfixed, until she fell agonisingly short of adding to her six Grand Slam crowns, losing the mixed doubles final with Rohan Bopanna. But the 36-year-old, who is set to retire at the WTA Dubai 1000 next month, will go down as one of India’s greatest sportspersons, a fearless competitor who inspired a generation, both on and off the court.
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