Novak Djokovic had won 33 straight matches in Australia, but found himself on the ropes and down a match point to American Sebastian Korda in the final of the Adelaide International.
The 35-year-old Serb saved the match point at 5-6 in the second set and went on to beat Korda, 6-7(8), 7-6(3), 6-4, to win his 92nd ATP title.
“I probably say that you were closer to victory today than I was,” Djokovic told Korda on court. “It was decided in one or two shots, one or two points today, but the future is bright for you so just keep going and you’re an amazing player.”
Djokovic tied his longtime rival Rafael Nadal for fourth on the all-time titles list. The duo trails only Jimmy Connors (109), the recently retired Roger Federer (103) and Ivan Lendl (94).
The 21-time Grand Slam champion would have been the favorite heading into the Australian Open even had he lost to Korda, but the victory solidifies his status as leader of the pack. He has won the Australian Open nine times and had won three straight before being deported against of last year’s fortnight due to his failure to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
Currently ranked No. 5 in the world, Djokovic is one of three men who could leave Australia ranked No. 1, along with No. 3 Casper Ruud and No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas. Djokovic and Tsitsipas need to win the title to claim the honor, while Ruud needs to reach the final if the other two don’t win.
World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz is unable to play the Australian Open due to a right leg injury.
Djokovic earned a match point when Korda, 22, smashed an overhead into the net. On match point, the American sailed a forehand long, giving Djokovic a 34th straight win Down Under.
“It was a great match today and I’m very grateful for you and for your team and hopefully we’ll have many more battles,” Korda said on court.
Korda looked the more aggressive and effortless player through much of the first two sets, while Djokovic often appeared on the defensive and frustrated, frequently shouting at his coach Goran Ivanisevic and the others in his box, including his brother Marko.
“I would like to thank my team for handling me, tolerating me, in the good and bad times today,” Djokovic admitted. “I’m sure they didn’t have such a blast with me going back and forth with them, but I appreciate them being here with me.”
Perhaps Korda had taken some inspiration from comments Djokovic made coming into the match in which he touted several other young players as the future of the game, including Alcaraz, Holger Rune of Denmark, who beat Djokovic in the Paris Indoor final, Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime and Italian Lorenzo Musetti.
“What Alcaraz has done last season has been extremely impressive and historic for our sport, so he deserves praise, no doubt,” Djokovic told the media in Adelaide. “He’s No. 1 in the world. There’s no higher peak to climb than that one, and already won a Slam, and he’s still so young.
“I guess we’re going to see lots of Alcaraz and Rune in the future,” Djokovic added. “Then Felix, I think he’s probably playing the tennis of his life in the last five, six months.
“Maybe because of Rune and Alcaraz, people don’t talk maybe as much about Felix because he’s been around a bit longer, but I think he deserves to be right there in the conversation right at the top with these guys, and Musetti, as well, you mentioned, someone that is putting his game together, I think is gaining more confidence and is improving.”
Korda was not mentioned by Djokovic but certainly served notice he can be a force at the Australian Open.
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