Novak Djokovic has pulled off a remarkable escape to snare the Adelaide International title in a three-hour thriller, saving a championship point to deny American Sebastian Korda on Sunday night.
The top seed had looked impervious all week but appeared out of sorts for much of the first two sets before tightening his grip against the 22-year-old, 6-7(8), 7-6(3), 6-4.
Korda was on the cusp of becoming the first man since Hyeon Chung in the 2018 Australian Open fourth round to defeat the Serbian Down Under, only for his opponent to snuff out his only chance with an overhead winner to keep his stay alive and turn the match on its head.
“He was quite in control. I wasn’t playing my best at all but found a way to win,” Djokovic said.
“I think in the tough days, when you’re not maybe striking the ball, not feeling your best on the court, and you win the match, particularly if it’s like later stages of the tournament, like the finals, it just gives you even more confidence and satisfaction for achieving that.”
Korda did not need to hear the numbers to know the odds were stacked heavily against him ahead of the showdown.
Djokovic was riding a 33-match winning streak on Australian soil and had fallen just once in his past 23 matches.
Had the American prevailed it would have been just his second tour title and fittingly 25 years after his father Petr Korda’s Australian Open triumph.
The former No.1 had other ideas. The hamstring he tweaked during his win over Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals fortunately proved to be nothing too serious as he collected his 92nd title from his 131st tour final.
It was the perfect tune-up for his Australian Open campaign in a week’s time.
“Absolutely. Five great matches. The last three opponents: Second round, 7-6, 7-6, tough two tiebreaks against Halys, who is playing very well,” Djokovic said.
“Then I had Shapovalov, Medvedev and Korda, who is on fire, playing some high-level tennis, striking the ball amazingly.
“I couldn’t ask for a better preparation and lead-up to Australian Open.”
Few players escaped Djokovic’s grip with as many missed opportunities as Korda only to win the opening set.
Serving for it at 5-4 he brought up triple set point only to be broken.
The American had to regroup fast as he fended off a set point on serve at 5-6 and brought up two more of his own in the ensuing tiebreak with a backhand winner down the line.
Finally on his seventh opportunity he had it in the bag at the 64-minute mark.
Neither player could be split through 11 games in the second set but as Djokovic served to stay alive at 5-6 he stared down a championship point.
He saved it on an overhead winner, took control in the tiebreak and sent the crowd into a frenzy when he levelled the match on his third set point.
“Of course, thousands of thoughts are running in your head at that moment,” Djokovic said “You feel pressure, no doubt. It’s just now how you handle it, how you adapt to it, and how you bring yourself back to the present moment and try to get the most out of it.
“As I said, statistically I’ve been lucky to win more of these kind of matches. Of course, the more you win these particular matches, the better you feel.
“I think it gets to the head of your opponents more, as well. That’s what I want. I want them to know that regardless of the scoreline, I’m always there, I’m always fighting till the last shot, and I’m able to turn things around.”
As Adelaide’s blazing afternoon sun disappeared beyond a pink-hued horizon Djokovic brought up his first break points of the deciding set when Korda pressed long.
Again the world No.33 hung tight but his opponent was circling.
Serving to stay in the match at 4-5, Korda netted an overhead from an impossible lob the Serbian somehow conjured and it presented a championship point.
Djokovic needed only the one as he sealed the result for his 11th title on Australian soil and his first in Adelaide since 2007.
Glasspool and Heliovaara secure third doubles trophy together
In the first final decided on Sunday, third seeds Lloyd Glasspool and Harri Heliovaara saw off Jamie Murray and Michael Venus 6-3, 7-6(3) to land their third tour title together.
The British-Finnish pair broke twice to take the opening set and from 3-all in the second set, they snatched four straight points to capture the trophy.
Glasspool brought up match point on an ace and sealed the win on a backhand pass down the line.