Serbian eyes record-equalling Slam No. 22; Greek ace targets maiden Major and No. 1 ranking
MELBOURNE: Stefanos Tsitsipas was engaged in an on-court interview with Jim Courier after the third seed had dispatched Russian Karen Khachanov 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3 to make his first Australian Open final.
The interaction ended a little abruptly when Tsitsipas, talking about going for his first Grand Slam title and the world No. 1 ranking, turned to the full house that appeared to be a sea of blue and white. “Let’s do it, guys,” the Greek called out to fans at the Rod Laver Arena, “Let’s go!”
Rampant Djokovic to meet Tsitsipas in Australian Open final
<p>A rampant Novak Djokovic surged into a 10th Australian Open final to close in on a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam crown, with only Stefanos Tsitsipas now standing in his way.<br /><br /></p>
<p>The Serbian fourth seed overcame an early wobble to romp past unseeded American Tommy Paul 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena in style.<br /><br /></p>
<p>Another title on Sunday will move him alongside Rafael Nadal with 22 Slam wins and see the 35-year-old return to world number one for the first time since last June.<br /><br /></p>
<p>Greek third seed Tsitsipas, who ground past Russian 18th seed Karen Khachanov 7-6 (7/2), 6-4, 6-7 (6/8), 6-3 in the other semi-final, can also become the top-ranked player should he lift the trophy.<br /><br /></p>
<p>Djokovic played the clash without father Srdjan courtside after he was filmed posing with a man holding a Russian flag featuring Vladimir Putin’s face following his son’s quarter-final win on Wednesday.<br /><br /></p>
<p>”I’m really thankful that I have enough gas in my legs to be able to play at this level on one of the biggest tennis courts in the world,” said Djokovic, who is now 11-0 for the season and into a 33rd Grand Slam final.<br /><br /><br /></p>
<p>The win extended Djokovic’s unbeaten streak at the Australian Open to 27 matches to claim sole ownership of the Open-era record at Melbourne Park ahead of Andre Agassi.<br /><br /></p>
<p>Djokovic had never played Paul before and said he was wary of a “very explosive, very dynamic player”, with the American initially refusing to go quietly.<br /><br /></p>
<p>The Serb, a hot favourite, attacked his opponent’s straight away for an early break, then broke again when the 35th-ranked Paul fired a forehand long to race 5-1 in front.<br /><br /></p>
<p>A run-in with the umpire over using his towel between points seemed to rattle Djokovic and he was broken twice in a row as Paul came surging back to 5-5.<br /><br /><br /></p>
<p>Djokovic regrouped to hold serve and break again and take the set in 59 minutes.<br /><br /></p>
<p>After that wobble, it was all business, despite clutching his strapped hamstring several times, romping through the next two sets with minimal resistance.<br /><br /></p>
<p>He will meet Tsitsipas next after the Greek battled into his first Australian final and only second at a Grand Slam.<br /><br /></p>
<p>In the previous one, at Roland Garros in 2021, Tsitsipas fell to Djokovic in five sets after holding a 2-0 lead.<br /><br /></p>
<p>At 24, Tsitsipas is the youngest man to reach the Melbourne final since a 23-year-old Djokovic in 2011.<br /></p>
<p>”I dreamed as a kid to maybe one day get to play in this court against the best players in the world,” said Tsitsipas, who is also unbeaten this season with a 10-0 record.<br /><br /></p>
<p>Tsitsipas has thrived in Melbourne throughout his career after bursting on the scene at the 2019 event as a 20-year-old when he dethroned defending champion Roger Federer in the last 16.<br /><br /></p>
<p>He went on to reach the semi-finals that year and again in 2021 and 2022. He came into his clash with Khachanov brimming with confidence.<br /><br /></p>
<p>Despite failing to get over the line when serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set, then with two match points in the tiebreak, he kept his cool to secure the win and a date with Djokovic.<br /></p>
The stands, draped in Greek flags, responded to the 6’4” Tsitsipas with an earnestness that turned mighty venue into a fortress. Melbourne has a Greek community of about 400,000 people, the largest Greek-speaking population outside Greece, so much so that Tsitsipas considers this his ‘home Slam’
In Sunday’s final, the third seed will take on Novak Djokovic, who is looking for a 10th title at Melbourne Park and a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title. Djokovic, momentarily distracted with his run-in with the chair umpire over when he was starting the shot clock, was broken twice as his unseeded American opponent Tommy Paul levelled at 5-all in the first set of the second semifinal.
The Serb then bounced back for a 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 win to make his tenth final here. The long-haired Greek said the No. 1 ranking has been a childhood dream for him.
“I’m happy that this opportunity (first major title and No. 1 ranking) comes here in Australia and not somewhere else, because this is a place of significance,” Tsitsipas said.
The 24-year-old pulled up for time violations and foot fault, regrouped quickly, refusing to relinquish his hold on the match.
“I’m playing great tennis. I’m enjoying myself. I see no downside or negativity in what I’m trying to do out there,” he said. “Even if it doesn’t work, I’m very optimistic and positive about any outcome, any opponent that I have to face. This is something that has been lacking in my game. I genuinely believe in what I’m able to produce. I strive for it every single day.”
The title match, the 13th meeting of the duo, with Djokovic leading the head-to-head 10-2, including three straight wins after the 35-year-old came back from two sets down in the final of the French Open in 2021.
There is some time to go before the men’s title clash, but the mind games had already begun. Tsitsipas put on a straight face when he said he had no recollection of the Roland Garros clash of two years ago, his first appearance in a major final.
“I won the match, my recollection of it is all positive, it was the first time I was coming back from two sets down,” Djokovic said in his oncourt interview.