Stef looks to break Novak’s 10/10 record
A GRAND Slam title and the world number one ranking spot are both on the line when Stefanos Tsitsipas takes on Novak Djokovic in the 2023 Australian Open final tomorrow. The Greek world number three takes on the Serbian world number six, but their experiences in Grand Slam finals could not be more different.
Tsitsipas is playing in his second Grand Slam final, with his first being at Roland Garros in 2021, against Djokovic. After leading two sets to love, he faded away to lose 6-7 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-4. A year earlier in the semi-final, Tsitsipas had trailed two sets to love, forced it into a fifth only to be blown away in the decider, 6-3 6-2 5-7 4-6 6-1. After beating the Serbian in two of his first three meetings, Tsitsipas has lost the past nine, with almost a four-year gap between successes.
“These are the moments I’ve been working hard for. To be able to play finals like this, but finals that have bigger meaning that just a final,” Tsitsipas said post his semi-final win. “It’s a Grand Slam final, I’m fighting for the No. 1 spot. It’s a childhood dream to be capturing the number one spot one day. I’m close. I’m happy that this opportunity comes here in Australia and not somewhere else, because this is a place of significance.”
Tsitsipas reached the final via a four-set win over 18th seeded Russian Karen Khachanov. After having match points in the third set, the Greek star got a little shaky, dropped the set in a tiebreaker, before responding to take the win, 7-6 6-4 6-7 6-3.
“I thought about how hard I’ve worked to get into this position, and it takes a little bit more,” Tsitsipas said. “I wasn’t able to deliver that in the third set; I was extremely close to getting it.
“It’s one of these moments that if you stick around, if you dedicate yourself even more and if you concentrate on these important moments even more, it pays off quite well. And always having that ambience in the background somewhere feels so good when I’m able to hit the ball and get such a reward back from the fans.”
For Djokovic, reaching the final seems business as usual, having never lost an Australian Open decider once he reaches the semi-final stage of Melbourne Park. Having won his past 14 sets, and completely demolished the likes of Alex de Minaur and Andrey Rublev, the former world number one heads in as overwhelming favourite. Djokovic said the bonus of regaining the number one spot in the world adds extra significance to the clash.
“Winning Grand Slams and being the No. 1 in the world are probably the two biggest peaks that you can climb as a professional tennis player,” Djokovic said. Let’s see what happens.”
The 21-time Grand Slam winner has every reason to be confident, having now won 27 consecutive matches at Melbourne Park, breaking the long-held record of American Andre Agassi. The broken record came at the expense of unseeded American Tommy Paul, who fought back from 1-5 down in the first set to level the scores at 5-5, only to go down in straight sets, 7-5 6-1 6-2 in his first Grand Slam semi-final.
“I was really fortunate to hold my nerve toward the end of the first set,” Djokovic said. “It was a key. After that I started swinging through the ball more, so I’m just really pleased to get through to another final.
“I need that engine, I need that energy and I’m really thankful that I still have enough gas in my legs to be able to play in this level on one of the biggest tennis courts in the world.”
Djokovic will be heavily fancied to win the final, not only equalling rival Rafael Nadal‘s record 22 Grand Slams, but hitting double-figure Australian Open titles and grabbing the number one spot in the process. If Tsitsipas can cause a boilover, he will be crowned world number one for the first time in his career, while the current world number one, Carlos Alcaraz – who was injured and unable to compete at Melbourne Park – will drop to second spot regardless of result, with the loser of the final sitting third.