This is what it all comes down to. With history and a place at the top of the world rankings on the line, Novak Djokovic will face Stefanos Tsitsipas in the men’s Australian Open final on Sunday.
The winner is named the new world No. 1; it will be a first for Tsitsipas, but it will be a return to the top for Djokovic, who spent a record 373 weeks at the top of the men’s rankings.
But not only is a place at the top of the leaderboard at stake, both players have individual milestones in their headlights.
For Djokovic, a victory on Sunday would be a record-extending 10th Australian Open title, his 22nd overall grand slam – equaling the overall men’s record currently held by Rafael Nadal.
Sunday’s victory would also see him overcome numerous talking points from the past two weeks – from his hamstring injury to his father being photographed at a demonstration with fans holding Russian flags and demonstrating his support for Russia.
Following his win over American Tommy Paul in the semifinals, Djokovic explained how he handled the scrutiny and said he just had to “accept it”.
“In my case, I feel like things just pile up and get added in one way or another for some reason,” he told reporters. “It’s not an ideal situation or circumstances where you have to deal with all those other external factors that aren’t really necessary during such an important event.
“But it has been part of my life. Unfortunately more in recent years. I’m just trying to evolve out of it. I try to become more resilient, stronger. I think with the experience I have with my routines I feel I am strong enough to know what to do, when to do certain things. I can switch off.”
He continued, “But somehow information comes to you these days. If so it’s there so then you have to find a way to just kind of accept it let it go just not allow it to take up your day or turn your mood into something that you don’t want to, especially before semifinals or grand slam finals.
“These are the times when you’re like, okay, now it’s about locking yourself in. It’s about creating your own space with your own people, getting comfortable and just trying to focus on what’s important.”
On the other side of the net, Tsitsipas is playing in his second grand slam final – Djokovic is playing in his 33rd.
His composure, accuracy and great punch have impressed his way to the finals and now he is within reach to claim his first major title.
The 24-year-old is out for revenge against Djokovic after the pair met in the 2021 French Open final, in which Djokovic defeated the Greek after two sets down.
And with so much at stake in the final, Tsitsipas thought back to when he looked up to those in the position he is in now.
“I remember watching (players winning grand slams) on TV and saying to myself, ‘I want to be there myself. I want to recreate that feeling for me,” he told reporters after his semifinal victory over Russia’s Karen Khachanov.
“I knew it would be a very long journey to get there. There are certain steps you need to take to give yourself the chance to compete for something like this.
“But I believed it very much. I believed it very much. First of all, it is your ego that speaks. You either have it or you don’t, you know? As a child I was very confident. Thank God I was good in my country.
“Based on that, I knew that if I was able to get out of my country and compete in other countries, European competitions, European tours, I proved myself over and over again that I am really good. I did finish as junior number 1. Now I want to do it with the men, in professional men’s tennis.”