Undefeated in finals at Melbourne Park, fourth seed Novak Djokovic has set a meeting with Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas bidding to achieve a record-extending 10th Australian Open title on Sunday’s championship match.
Nine-time champion, Novak Djokovic, booked his ticket to a 33rd Grand Slam final by overpowering American Tommy Paul 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 on Friday after two hours and 20 minutes at Rod Laver Arena.
The stakes on Sunday’s final are high for both players; Djokovic could seal his first campaign down under in two years with a record-extending 10th Australian Open trophy, his 22nd major to equal Spaniard Rafael Nadal.
Meanwhile, World No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas is seeking to capture his maiden Slam, having advanced to a second career final at a major.
Moreover, both men are in contention to claim the top of the men’s rankings.
Following his semifinal triumph over 18th seed Karen Khachanov, 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3, after three hours and 21 minutes on Friday, Tsitsipas became the first Greek player to reach the final at the Australian Open.
Djokovic spoke about the Greek after the matchup against Paul, outlining: “I respect [Tsitsipas] a lot. He has improved over the years. I think he is one of the most interesting guys off the tour, with his interests off the court, his hairstyle and all, but it’s all business on Sunday for both of us. Let the better player win.”
Early in January, the Serbian set off his season, clinching a 92nd ATP title at the Adelaide International 1, an ATP 250 held in the build-up to the AO.
The 35-year-old defeated Sebastian Korda 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, extending his winning streak in Australia to 34 matches.
However, in his semifinal match against Daniil Medvedev, he sustained a hamstring injury on his left thigh when stretching to make a forehand, which would become an issue of concern, despite entering the Australian Open with a favorite status.
He opened his campaign in Melbourne against Roberto Carballes Baena, taking the court with his left thigh heavily strapped.
But as play unfolded, it became clear the injury that forced him to cancel a practice session would have no bearing on the match.
Djokovic beat the Spaniard with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 dominant performance to next face French qualifier Enzo Couacaud.
During the clash with Couacaud, the 21-time Grand Slam champion requested a medical time-out before dropping the second set.
All in all, he found a way to overcome the physical pain, setting a third-round meeting with 27th seed Grigor Dimitrov but casting doubts about his fitness.
The Bulgarian made an intense start to the opener, which led to a first-set tiebreak which Djokovic eventually took 7-6(7), calling for a medical time-out to treat his upper left leg.
Regardless, the Nitto ATP Finals winner secured a three-set victory to move into the fourth round.
On Monday evening, he played local favorite Alex de Minaur, wrapping up a 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 win in two hours.
The World No. 5 did not display his A-game, yet moved freely to dominate his adversary, striking 26 winners and winning 75 percent on his first serve.
The win gave the Belgrade native confidence to move forward - drop just five games, as he expressed to the media after the encounter.
“Tonight, the way I played, the way I felt, gives me a reason to believe that I can go all the way.
“I always believe I can go all the way in terms of my tennis. But the way my leg felt before tonight wasn’t giving me too much hope.”
Adding: “I kept my focus all the way through and played the best match of the year so far.”
Against fifth seed Andrey Rublev, he raised his level to produce stunning tennis, earning a straight sets victory to march into the semifinals in style.
On Friday, he ousted first-time Grand Slam semifinalist Paul, showcasing a ruthless performance, downing the American 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 to keep his perfect record at the major.
Assessing the match, Djokovic commented: “I was really fortunate to hold my nerve toward the end of the first set. It was a key. After that, I started swinging through the ball more. I’m just really pleased to get through to another final.”
For his part, Greece’s top racquet has been consistent match after match, moving into the second week at Melbourne Park without dropping a set.
Tsitsipas entered the tournament displaying his best tennis in a while, 100 percent fit, having evolved as a player notably.
In his own words: “I’m playing great tennis, enjoying myself. I just see no downside or negativity in what I’m trying to do out there,” the 24-year-old remarked.
On his way to the final, the two-time Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters champion put out Aussie Rinky Hijikata and Dutch player Tallon Griekspoor.
He went five for the first and lone time, thus far in the tournament, to survive 15th Jannik Sinner, next edging Jiri Lehecka in the quarterfinals and then Khachanov.
To this date, the man mentored by Goran Ivanisevic leads the Athens born-player in their series 10-2.
Sunday’s final will mark the rematch of their 2021 French Open championship match, in which Djokovic went the distance to come back from two sets down to emerge victorious from a dramatic five sets battle.
“I think it was the first time I came from two sets to love down in a Grand Slam final. It was also his first Grand Slam final,” Djokovic recalls.
“It was a really physical, emotional, mental battle; it always is with Stefanos.”
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