Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has taken tennis by storm in the last fortnight but the French whirlwind finally blew itself out here today. Having beaten four seeded players on his way to the Australian Open final, Tsonga finally met his match in Novak Djokovic, the world No 3. Claiming his first Grand Slam title, Djokovic came from behind to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6.
Tsonga, the world No 38, had never played in a final let alone won a tournament and for the first hour he looked to be on the way to a sensational victory. Djokovic, however, has emerged in the last year as a worthy challenger to the supremacy of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and the 20-year-old worked his way back into the match before taking control. The first Serb to win a men's Grand Slam singles title, he is also the first player other than Federer or Nadal to claim a Grand Slam crown since Marat Safin won here three years ago.
For Tsonga there were plenty of compensations, not the least of which was his cheque for $Aus685,000 (about £305,000), which doubles his career earnings. He will also rise to No 18 in the next rankings list, while his performances here and winning smile have made him an instant favourite with the public.
If the fans took to the 22-year-old Frenchman over the last fortnight, Djokovic did not endear himself to the locals after his semi-final, when he said that he had had to beat both Roger Federer and the crowd. The Serb further alienated most of the spectators here with the length of time he frequently took between his first and second serves. Tsonga twice complained but to no avail.
The underdog clearly enjoyed the greater support in the stands and Djokovic's family complained about the behaviour of a group of French fans behind their box. The Police were in attendance, but only in the shape of Sting and company following their concert at the Melbourne Cricket Ground 24 hours earlier.
At least Djokovic retained his sense of humour in his victory speech. "I know the crowd wanted him [Tsonga] to win more, but that's OK," he said. "I still love you guys, don't worry."
Both men started nervously by dropping serve, but Tsonga was quickly into his stride. Djokovic continued to look tight, while the Frenchman was soon moving around the court with the languid ease that has characterised his play throughout the tournament.
At 4-5 Djokovic went 0-30 down on his serve, brought the score back to 30-30, but then lost the set after two sensational points. The Serb should have put away a routine smash but hit it straight at Tsonga, who promptly drove a forehand winner across court. There was little wrong with Djokovic's play on the next point, but Tsonga flew across the court to pick up the world No 3's volley and whipped a superb top-spin lob that landed just inside the baseline. Tsonga went on one knee and pumped his fist in celebration, while his watching father, Didier, threw punches into the air in the manner of Muhammad Ali, his son's lookalike.
It was the first set Djokovic had dropped at the tournament, but although the Serb was looking rattled his response was admirable. At 3-3 in the second set a smash and a thumping backhand winner down the line off a 132mph per hour serve created break point, which was converted when Tsonga put a forehand out. For the first time since the opening game Tsonga's confidence waned and Djokovic took the set with four successive unreturned serves.
The momentum had clearly shifted in Djokovic's favour and the Serb dominated the third set. He broke in the third game, courtesy of two successive Tsonga errors, and at 3-5 the Frenchman dropped his serve again. Djokovic, however, needed seven set points, Tsonga finally wilting when he netted a volley after the world No 3's powerful backhand down the line.
The first three sets had taken more than two hours and in the fourth both players felt the pace. Tsonga showed signs of the cramp that had affected him in his first-round defeat of Andy Murray, while Djokovic started to feel his left thigh. The Serb took a time-out to have his leg massaged and was clearly moving with some difficulty, but Tsonga was unable to take advantage.
The outcome of the match might have been different if Tsonga had won a critical point when Djokovic served at 5-5. The Frenchman, having created his first break point since the first set, had his opponent at his mercy when he chased down a drop shot, but instead of going cross-court he drove his forehand down the line, where Djokovic was waiting to cut it off and hit a winning volley.
The Serb played a magnificent tie-break to claim victory. He made the first break to lead 2-0, broke again to go 5-1 up and took his first match point when Tsonga put a forehand out. Djokovic fell on his back in celebration and kissed the court before running over to share his joy with his family. It will surely be the first of many Grand Slam victories in what is promising to be a wonderful career.