Entertainment Sports Novak Djokovic Returns From COVID Ban to Win 10th Australian Open: 'Biggest Victory of My Life' Novak Djokovic claimed his 22nd Grand Slam title in Melbourne on Sunday, a year after he was forced to miss the Australian Open because of his decision to remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 By Marisa Sullivan Marisa Sullivan Instagram Twitter Digital News Writer People Editorial Guidelines Published on January 30, 2023 08:37 AM Share Tweet Pin Email Trending Videos Novak Djokovic wins the Australian Open. Photo: James D. Morgan/Getty Images Novak Djokovic is celebrating his "biggest victory." The Serbian tennis star won his 10th Australian Open and 22nd Grand Slam title on Sunday and later described himself as "emotionally collapsed" by the effort — which left him sobbing into a towel. "This has been one of the more challenging tournaments I've ever played in my life, considering the circumstances," he said in a post-game press conference in reference to having missed the 2022 Australian Open because of the country's strict regulations with COVID-19 and a last-minute visa cancellation over his unvaccinated status. "Not playing last year, coming back this year. I want to thank all the people who made me feel welcome, made me feel comfortable," added Djokovic, who shut out Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Melbourne final by a score of 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-5). "Only the teams and family know what we've been through these last four to five weeks and this is the biggest victory of my life considering those circumstances," he continued. Novak Djokovic Returns to Australia a Year After COVID Deportation, Aims for 10th Australian Open Title Will Murray/Getty Images Djokovic's emotional journey started in January 2022 due to issues with his visa application, despite having earlier received a COVID medical exemption to participate in the Australian Open. A panel of three Australian Federal Court judges then unanimously upheld a decision made by Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to cancel his visa on the grounds that he was unvaccinated against COVID, ESPN reported. In a statement, Djokovic voiced his disappointment on the issue, but ultimately respected the ruling made on his behalf. "I am extremely disappointed with the Court ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the Minister's decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open," Djokovic said in the statement, per ESPN. "I respect the Court's ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country." Novak Djokovic Says He Is "Disappointed" to Leave Australia After His Visa Appeal Is Denied Novak Djokovic wins the Australian Open. Andy Cheung/Getty Images During a press conference in December, Craig Tiley, the Australian Open's tournament director, reportedly had nothing but positive words to say about the athlete's return following the country's decision to lift its vaccination restrictions. "Novak is welcome in Australia," Tiley said of the tennis legend. "I think as we speak he has landed in Adelaide and he's going to be the player to beat again." "I have a great deal of confidence in the Australian public," Tiley added about his belief that Djokovic would be well-received by the local crowds. "We're a very well-educated sporting public, particularly those who come to the tennis. They love their tennis, they love seeing greatness, they love seeing great athleticism, great matches." "And I have a lot of confidence that the fans will react like we hope they would react and have respect for that," he noted. Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories. Djokovic's win on Sunday has lifted him back to the top of the men's world rankings. He also now shares the men's record for Grand Slam wins with Rafael Nadal. "I want to thank all the people who made me feel comfortable," Djokovic said Sunday. "There is a reason I have been playing my best tennis here."