Novak Djokovic remains on track to win a record-tying 22nd grand slam title after beating American Tommy Paul in straight sets in Friday’s Australian Open semifinals to set up a mouthwatering final with Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The Serbian faced stiff opposition from big hitter Paul in his 7-5 6-1 6-2 win to reach his 33rd grand slam final.
His win came just hours after Tsitsipas beat Russian Karen Khachanov 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 to reach his second career Grand Slam final.
The final promises to be an exciting encounter and whoever wins will be crowned number 1 in the new men’s world. Tsitsipas is looking for his first Grand Slam title, while Djokovic is just one game away from matching Rafael Nadal’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles.
Despite suffering a hamstring injury in earlier rounds of the tournament, Djokovic was dominant in Melbourne, beating his last four opponents without dropping a set. But there has been controversy outside of court.
Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, did not attend Friday’s match after he was pictured during a demonstration with fans holding Russian flags to show his support for Russia.
In a video posted to YouTube by a well-known supporter of Vladimir Putin, the Serbian player’s father can be seen posing with a fan outside Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena. The man wears the “Z” symbol on his shirt – a symbol seen as a sign of support for Russia, including the invasion of Ukraine – while holding a Russian flag with Putin’s face on it. “Long live Russia,” he says.
In a pre-match statement, Srdjan said he was in Melbourne “only to support my son” and “had no intention of causing any such headlines or disruption”.
“So there is no disruption to tonight’s semi-final for my son or for the other player, I have chosen to watch from home,” the statement continued.
In the semifinals, the 35-year-old raced to a 5-1 lead in the first set. But Paul – the huge underdog after a dream run to the semi-finals – fought back by breaking Djokovic’s serve twice to take the set to 5-5.
Djokovic managed to correct the slip and close the opening set. As the game progressed, his class showed as he carefully dissected his American opponent and converted seven of 11 break points.
The win, which cost Djokovic two hours and 20 minutes, still leaves him on the hunt for a record-extending 10th Australian Open title.
Djokovic said his level was “perfect” heading into Sunday’s final.
“Of course you are not as fresh as at the start of the tournament, but we put a lot of hours into it off-season. I know what is expected of me and I have had so many positions in my career,” he said immediately afterwards in his interview on the court.
“It’s a great battle, with yourself and the opponent. Long rallies and you felt the heavy legs in the first set, but I was lucky to keep my nerves down. After that I swerved through the ball more and I’m just glad I made it through a final again.
It was the end of the road for Paul, who had shocked many by reaching the first grand slam semifinal of his career.
Paul is currently ranked No. 35 in the world and became the first American man to reach the last four of the Australian Open since Andy Roddick in 2009, when he defeated compatriot Ben Shelton in the quarterfinals.
The 25-year-old is now guaranteed to climb into the top 20 in the world for the first time, having beaten top-30 players Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Roberto Bautista Agut en route to the last four.
For Tsitsipas it is a chance for revenge against Djokovic.
The pair met in the 2021 French Open final – Tsitsipas’ first career grand slam final – in which Djokovic came from two sets behind to defeat the Greek player.
But now, just over 18 months later, the 24-year-old has a chance to avenge that heartbreaking loss and following his semi-final win against Khachanov, he said he is playing one of the best tennis of his career.
“I just don’t see any downside or negativity in what I’m trying to do there,” Tsitsipas said. “Even if it doesn’t work, I am very optimistic and positive about every outcome, every opponent I face.
“This is something that was a bit lacking in my game. I sincerely believe in what I can produce. That’s more than enough. i go around [it] this way… I strive for it every day. It may not go the way I want it to, but I am giving 110 percent.”
Although his procession to the final was briefly interrupted by Khachanov holding back two match points in the third set, Tsitsipas managed to beat the Russian in three hours and 21 minutes.
And with a spot at the top of the world rankings at stake, Tsitsipas said he’s living a “childhood dream.”
“I love that song… It’s a grand slam final, I’m fighting for the No. 1 spot, it’s a childhood dream to take that No. 1 spot one day,” he said.
“I’m closed. I’m glad this opportunity comes here in Australia and not anywhere else, because this is a place of significance.”
Djokovic holds the record for the most time spent as world No. 1 with 373 weeks. Seeded fourth at the Australian Open and currently No. 5 in the world, the Serb played a limited schedule in 2022 due to his decision not to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
He was deported from Australia before the start of the 2022 Australian Open and his vaccination status prevented him from traveling to participate in tournaments in some territories, including the United States, losing many of his ranking points. to defend.