Djokovic fends off Frenchman to win first Grand Slam title
By JOHN PYE
AP Sports Writer
MELBOURNE, Australia - Novak Djokovic fended off unseeded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (2) in the Australian Open final Sunday, earning his first Grand Slam title.
No. 3-ranked Djokovic's win broke a sequence of 11 straight majors won by either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal since Marat Safin's triumph at the 2005 Australian championship.
Djokovic had not lost a set in six matches leading into the final, including his semifinal win over two-time defending champion Federer.
But with Muhammad Ali lookalike Tsonga coming out swinging like he did in his straight-sets upset over No. 2 Nadal in the semifinals, that streak came to a sudden end.
The 20-year-old Djokovic rebounded in the second and third sets and after saving a crucial breakpoint in the fourth, clinched his first major at his 13th attempt.
He was the youngest player since Stefan Edberg defeated Mats Wilander in 1985 to win the Australian title and the first man from Serbia to win a major.
As well as Tsonga, he had to overcome cramps.
Djokovic got treatment on the back of his left thigh while holding for a 3-2 lead in the fourth set, then fended off a break point while serving at 5-5.
Wanting to finish it off quickly, he raced through the tiebreaker - with some help from Tsonga, who double-faulted to make it 5-1 and then sent a running forehand long to give Djokovic four championship points.
He only needed one as Tsonga hit a forehand wide.
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.
"First, before I thank everybody in this world, I want to thank everybody in my box, who've supported me all the way through, not just these two weeks, all the way in my life," Djokovic said. "Thank you very much, I love you.
"Second of course Jo. Unbelievable tournament and you should be proud of yourself - if he won tonight it would be absolutely deserved, so well done for his success."
Djokovic, who has had a hot and cold relationship with the Melbourne Park crowd, won them back over again in his post-match speech.
"I know the crowd wanted him to win more," he said of Tsonga. "That's OK, it's alright. I still love you guys, don't worry.
"I'm very, very happy that I won my first Grand Slam here, so hopefully we'll see you here on this stage a lot more often in the future."
Tsonga, ranked 38th, was playing his fifth Grand Slam tournament and had never previously gone beyond the fourth round. He was aiming to be the first Frenchman in 80 years to win the Australian title and the first to win any of the four Grand Slams since Yannick Noah's win at Roland Garros in 1983.
Rod Laver Arena was packed and awash in red, white and blue, the national colors of both countries, but there was little doubt where the rowdy crowd's loyalties lay - with underdog Tsonga, who has delighted the Melbourne Park fans with his ebullient personality and go-for-broke style.
A portrait of Ali, a racket sketched in one hand, was taped to a wall, and Tsonga sprinted onto the court for warmups.
Djokovic, who had complained after his semifinal victory over Federer that he had to fight two opponents because of the overwhelming support for the Swiss star, was at it again, frequently turning toward a pocket of chanting Serbian fans to get them fired up after he fired winners.
Both men looked tight at first, dropping their first service games before settling in.
Tsonga suddenly picked up his game when it appeared the first set was headed for a tiebreaker. He blasted three aces to take a 5-4 lead, then came up with two great shots to break Djokovic.
Serving at 30-30, 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.
Djokovic refused to crumble. He never faced a break point in the second and third sets, yielding only 10 points in his nine service games.
Tsonga, who had been so aggressive in beating four top 14 players earlier in the tournament, including No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, seemed more content to rally from the baseline, especially after getting passed several times.