As soon as it became official that Novak Djokovic would be allowed to compete in the 2023 Australian Open, the whole world knew he was the favorite to take home this championship.
After being denied the chance to compete in 2022 and defend his 2021 title in Melbourne, everyone was aware how much it would mean to Djokovic to make up for lost time and opportunities.
He might not admit it publicly, but we can all agree that Djokovic felt he would have won if he had been able to play this tournament one year ago. Rafael Nadal took the lead in the all-time major championship race at last year’s Australian Open, getting to 21 before Djokovic did.
Novak had every right to think it should have been him … if only he had been given the chance.
Djokovic stood out as the obvious favorite for this year’s Australian Open not only because Nadal was not in good form, not only because Nadal had a difficult draw, and not only because Daniil Medvedev’s hardcourt aura has lost its luster. Djokovic was the clear and heavy favorite to lift the 2023 Australian Open championship trophy because no one is better at turning adversity into fuel.
If the deck is stacked against Djokovic in some way — real or perceived (if not both) — Nole so consistently and unfailingly channels that situation into productive energy and a resolute mindset which sharpens his focus and gives him clarity amid the clamor of competition.
This is Djokovic’s life story in a nutshell: learning to be comfortable with discomfort. It’s not that Djokovic relishes the discomfort, but he does relish the chance to take an unfavorable set of circumstances or a negative plot twist and prove that he can transcend it all.
He has done this over and over again on so many levels. He did it at this tournament, overcoming an injury scare in the middle stages of the tournament before playing better and feeling better at the end. This paralleled the 2021 Australian Open, in which Taylor Fritz and Alexander Zverev couldn’t take advantage of him in a diminished state. Once he got through the Zverev quarterfinal, his body responded well in the semifinals, and he was home free, romping to another title in Melbourne Park.
Rafael Nadal, coached by Toni Nadal, accepted at the start of his career that suffering was part of winning. With Nadal, there was and is a fundamental, all-encompassing acceptance of pain and hardship as a default setting.
One tennis observer made the comment — in the middle of this Big 3 Golden Era of men’s tennis — that whereas Roger Federer reveled in making something difficult look easy, Rafael Nadal reveled in making each task look hard, even when he was wiping the floor with Fed or another rival on the court.
Djokovic doesn’t revel in making things easy or making things difficult. He revels in overcoming obstacles, in proving a point, in showing everyone that you can try to stop him in a million different ways, but he will figure out how to prevail in the end.
It’s why he’s the Australian Open champion once again, one year after being barred from playing in Melbourne Park.
It’s why he’s very likely to own more major singles championships than any other man — and probably (if he gets to 25) any other human being — when it’s all said and done.