Djokovic wins Australian Open a year after deportation - equals Nadal's Grand Slam record

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Novak Djokovic has won the Australian Open to equal Rafael Nadal's Grand Slam record, a year after he was deported over his COVID vaccination status.

The Serbian tennis star beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in three sets in the final in Melbourne on Sunday.

He has now equalled Nadal's Grand Slam record of 22 men's singles titles.

It is Djokovic's 10th Australian Open title.

He said: "It is the biggest victory of my life."

The 35-year-old added that it was one of the "most challenging tournaments" he played in especially after "not playing last year."

His victory comes a year after he was unable to compete in the tournament when he was deported from Australia because he refused to have the COVID vaccine.

In his trophy acceptance speech, he thanked everyone for making him feel welcome

Djokovic defeated the Greek finalist 6-3, 7-6(4), and 7-6(5) at the Rod Laver Arena.

Novak Djokovic, right, of Serbia is celebrated by Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece following the men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Image: The finalists share a handshake . Pic: AP

Tsitsipas also lost to Djokovic at the 2021 French Open.

The Serb broke down in tears as he hugged his family in the stands and even laid down, overwhelmed with emotion.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates in the stands with his support team after defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in the men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Image: Djokovic was raw with emotion after winning a momentous championship. Pic: AP

Now Djokovic's winning streak extends to 28 matches at the hard-court tournament.

A breakdown of his 22 major championships include seven from Wimbledon, three from the U.S. Open and two from the French Open.

"The greatest that has ever held the tennis racket"

Tsitsipas was gracious in defeat and congratulated his opponent on his record-equalling victory.

The 24-year-old said: "I admire what you have done for the sport. You make me a better player when I am on the court.

"Novak brings the best out of me... he is the greatest that has ever held the tennis racket."

He added: "I've had the privilege to play a lot of high-intensity matches. These are the matches I've been working my entire life for. I'd like to thank you for pushing our sport so far."

"Don't let anyone take away the dream"

Djokovic welcomed the Greek's kind words.

"This is definitely not your last Grand Slam. You definitely have more time. Much more than me," he said to Tsitsipas.

He spoke about Greece and Serbia being relatively small countries "without a tennis tradition and no players to look up to."

But his message for young tennis players was to "dream big."

"Dare to dream. Everything is possible. Don't let anybody take away the dream.

"It doesn't matter where you're coming from. The more difficulties you have the stronger you become - Stefanos and I are proof of that."

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