A brilliant tournament had a brilliant final.
In a match that had all the atmosphere of a Davis Cup tie, Novak Djokovic has won the 2008 Australian Open 4-6 6-4 6-3 7-6 over a brilliant but error-ridden Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
In a landmark result, the win is not only the first Grand Slam title for Djokovic but also the first for Serbia, the tiny, war-torn European nation that has inexplicably also produced players of the ilk of Janko Tipsarevic, Jelena Jankovic, and Ana Ivanovic.
Djokovic, the No. 3 player in the world and a finalist at the US Open last year, was a worthy winner after dropping just one set all tournament, and that was tonight.
But it very nearly wasn’t so.
By the start of the fourth set, the talented Serbian suffered serious cramp in his left leg when chasing down a Tsonga drop shot.
Djokovic—who has twice retired from Grand Slam events with fatigue—sought treatment at 2-2 and was noticeably inconvenienced by it for the rest of the set.
Here he started to resemble the old boxer in the short story "A Piece of Steak," who, facing a younger, fitter opponent, realises he has only one punch left and faces the dilemma of when to throw it.
It proved to be the fourth-set tie break.
Djokovic, mindful that he faced next to no chance in a fifth set, threw the only punch he had left, won the tie break and the match, and crumpled to the ground with elation and relief.
It’s a good thing Djokovic is good at tennis, because he would make a lousy poker player.
The following are some words that won't be used to describe the talented Serbian: "ice cool," "unflappable," and "introverted."
Not since Goran Ivanisevic, another gifted eastern European, has there been a player who so consistently wears his heart on his sleeve...or appears so easily distracted.
In the first set, and a sizable portion of the second, it seemed everything was bothering the Serb: Tsonga, who was knocking winners from everywhere; the crowd, which was right behind the Frenchman; the umpire, who apparently wasn’t overruling his linesmen enough; and his father, who had the audacity to leave Rod Laver Arena momentarily for what could only have been a toilet break.
“Sometimes you can’t control your emotions on the court and this match today was very important for me,” Djokovic said later.
“There was a lot of pressure on me, everyone expected me to win and I wanted to win. I wanted to win the first Grand Slam (title for Serbia).”
Djokovic, who really should lighten up, as he has a winning personality, later made peace with the crowd, telling them, “I know you wanted him to win more but I still love you guys”.
And with that a fractured relationship was made whole again.
Tsonga, seeking to become the first unseeded player to win the title in 32 years, cooled dramatically in the second and third sets, with his forehand leaking unforced errors where before it had blazed only winners.
The Frenchman leaps from 38 to 18 in the world after this—and will almost certainly be in the top 10 before the year is out.
Incredibly, he was playing in just his fifth Grand Slam tournament, and his first final of any senior tournament.
For a man who was an outsider in his first-round match against Brit world No. 8 Andy Murray, this performance was by any measure extraordinary.
The only thing missing from his armory is experience.
If Djokovic can develop some composure, he’ll be the complete package, too.
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