MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Novak Djokovic took the expected barrage from Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first set, then gave back some of his own to make the Australian Open his first Grand Slam title.
No. 3-ranked Djokovic fended off Muhammad Ali lookalike Tsonga 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (2) in the final on Sunday night, ending a sequence of 11 straight majors won by either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal since Marat Safin's triumph here in 2005.
The 20-year-old 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 unseeded Tsonga coming out swinging like he did in his straight-sets upset over No. 2 Nadal in the semifinals and three other top 14 players, 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, dominated the tiebreaker to clinch his first major at his 13th attempt.
"You feel the expectations and pressure, so I'm very happy with the way I dealt with the pressure," Djokovic said. "Coming on against a player with nothing to lose — he was going for the shots and he was very dangerous, especially in the first set — I was pretty nervous."
Djokovic 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.
Tsonga, who had been so aggressive earlier in the tournament, seemed more content to rally from the baseline, especially after getting passed several times.
"He was very dangerous," Djokovic said. "I was aware of that fact, but I was trying to stay with him because I knew sooner or later, with my style of game, I could get in control of the match, which I did in the middle of the second set."
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."
His father, mother and two younger brothers wore white tracksuits and sat in order with letters on the front spelling out Djokovic's nickname, Nola.
"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 all right. 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 coming into his fifth major, will move up to No. 18 after advancing past the fourth round for the first time.
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.
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.
Djokovic said he didn't know where he would go next, but planned to spend a couple of weeks enjoying the celebrations.
"It's my first major, but it's just the start of a long season," he said.