MELBOURNE, Australia &
Novak Djokovic didn't have to do an impersonation this time. He's a Grand Slam champion for real.
Serving notice that his rapid rise in the rankings last year was no fluke, third-ranked Djokovic ended the Cinderella story of the Australian Open by beating unseeded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (2) in Sunday night's final.
"I think every player dreams about winning a Grand Slam," Djokovic said. "It's something special."
Top-ranked Roger Federer and No. 2 Rafael Nadal had combined to win the last 11 Grand Slams. Djokovic personally held up Federer's drive for Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles on hold by ousting him in the semifinals. Federer now will go for No. 13 at the French Open.
Despite reaching at least the semifinals at the last three Grand Slams, Djokovic has been better known as "Djoker" for his wry sense of humor and impressions of other tennis players that have become hits on YouTube.
It was easy to see that requests for the impersonations were wearing on him at Melbourne Park &
he tried to beg off when he was asked to mimic Maria Sharapova after a match early in the two-week tournament &
so Djokovic let his tennis do the talking.
It spoke volumes.
The 20-year-old Serbian, who said he listened to music, watched funny videos and told jokes in the locker room to relax before going on court, hadn't dropped a set in six matches until Tsonga stunned him with a pair of great shots to break and take the first set.
Djokovic didn't crumble. Just the opposite.
Forced to fire himself up with the packed Rod Laver Arena crowd overwhelmingly favoring underdog Tsonga, Djokovic was pumping his fist and pounding his chest toward his biggest pocket of supporters as he slowly but steadily halted Tsonga's dream run. It included victories over four players ranked in the top 14, including Nadal in the semifinals.
"I was a bit nervous on the start because I found myself in a strange situation: that I am the favorite in the finals of a Grand Slam," Djokovic said. "It was dangerous, but I managed to cope with the pressure well."
Tsonga, ranked 38th coming into his fifth major, will move up to No. 18 after advancing past the fourth round for the first time. The Muhammad Ali lookalike has delighted the Melbourne Park fans with his ebullient personality and go-for-broke style, and his parents were at courtside after flying in earlier in the day for the match.
"The crowd was unbelievable," Tsonga said. "I had goosebumps. It was crazy.
"I'm very proud of myself. I'm happy for Novak, because he played unbelievable today."
A portrait of Ali, a racket sketched in one hand, was taped to a stadium wall, and Tsonga sprinted onto the court for warmups.
Both men looked tight at first, dropping their first service games before settling in. Tsonga blasted three aces to take a 5-4 lead in the first set.
Serving at 30-30 in the next game, 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.
It was his last chance to celebrate.
Djokovic never faced a break point in the second and third sets, yielding only 10 points in his nine service games.
But he got another scare when his left hamstring tightened up and he had to get treatment in the fourth set. The massage helped, and Djokovic raced through the fourth-set tiebreaker.
"You could see that we were not moving really well, both of us, that we were really tired," Djokovic said.
After Tsonga hit a forehand wide on match point, 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.
"I know the crowd wanted him to win more," he told the fans after the trophy presentation. "That's OK. I still love you guys, don't worry."
Maybe Sharapova should ask Djokovic to continue impersonating her. She won the women's title without dropping a set, even though she had a tough draw, ending former Grand Slam winner Lindsay Davenport's great comeback run after maternity leave, then top-ranked Justine Henin's 32-match winning streak before beating Ana Ivanovic in the final Saturday.
Novak Djokovic fends off Tsonga to win Australian Open title
MELBOURNE, Australia &