Barry Flatman, Sunday Times Tennis Correspondent:
Tennis has a sparkling new champion who can only enrich the sport. Novak
Djokovic seemed like a breath of fresh air when he first emerged on the
world scene a couple of years ago and now he is Australian Open champion the
pinnacle of the men's game is no longer just a two-man rivalry but a
triumvirate of great riches.
The tournament of course has its controversy: police using mustard spray and
inane scheduling that caused matches to finish at ridiculous times in the
early morning. For those hopeful of British success, things came to a
juddering halt before the sun had set on day one with the disappointing
early demise of Andy Murray.
Now the negative moments can be consigned to the back of the memory bank
while the abiding thing to remember will be one of the most entertaining
finals ever played at Melbourne Park with Djokovic's intelligence, court
craft and sublime skill eventually proving too much for the exhilarating
As a match it had nearly everything: two supreme young talents with
divergent games and an appeal that stimulated the crowd into creating one of
the finest atmospheres ever known for a grand-slam final. There was an
element of edge as Tsonga correctly complained about the time Djokovic
habitually spends between points, stalling his serves with incessant ball
bounces. There was also some stunning play with Djokovic working out a way
to halt the French steam roller at the opposite end of the court who had
pummelled Rafael Nadal in the previous round.
And to round it all off there was the sudden death suspense of the tie-break
where Tsonga's momentous march finally came to an end and Djokovic, who
seemed as though he might have injured himself stretching for a low ball
just a couple of games previously, proved strong in mind and body.
A night earlier The Police had played a massive concert just across the
railway tracks at the MCG and the noise drowned out the applause for the
boys singles final won by the precocious 15-year-old Australian Bernard
Tomic, who is giving this nation new tennis optimism. But as Djokovic sunk
to his knees at the moment of his 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 victory, the crowd
roared with approval and Sting was more than happy to lend his voice to the
It was no more than Djokovic deserved. At times in the final he seemed
disorientated by Tsonga's unrestrained power play and had to regroup to
formulate a different approach. The 38th ranked Frenchman clearly posed far
more problems to the favourite than the imperious Roger Federer did in the
semi-final but it was only a matter of time before Djokovic's variety and
tactical brilliance found a breakthrough.
The pair split the first two sets with the charging Tsonga ending the first
in magnificent style, hitting first a crunching forehand and then an
audacious lob. He bounded around in sheer delight but Djokovic broke out of
his own personal doldrums to harness his opponent's power and then level the
match with an ace.
Djokovic seemed to sense that Tsonga was tiring at the beginning of the
third and registered an early break which was never seriously threatened,
but the tension mounted as the third seeded Serb required seven set points
before finally cementing the upper hand.
Both men were primed for the challenge as the match moved on. Tsonga was
rarely anything less than authoritarian on his own serve and until Djokovic
required the attention of the trainer to massage his strained left thigh
muscle, he moved around the court with lithe grace.
Tsonga's nerve held as he twice had to serve to stay in the match but the
pressure of the tie-break finally caused him to buckle with an errant
forehand into the net and then an ill-timed double fault, only his second of
the match, giving Djokovic the crucial mini-breaks.
Great champions do not squander great chances and although Djokovic was
presented with four match points he only required one as he claimed his
title by forcing Tsonga into hitting a final forehand wide. He is a champion
who will do credit to tennis and the player he beat will also greatly
enhance the top of the game.
So we had an evening of which tennis can be proud and can now look forward
to a future that promotes a great sense of optimism.