Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas will reprise their grand slam final rivalry in a high-stakes Australian Open title match after navigating through the semi-finals at Melbourne Park.
Djokovic eased past unseeded Tommy Paul 7-5 6-1 6-2 to advance to a record-extending 33rd grand slam final – and 10th in Melbourne – after Tsitsipas reached his second earlier on Friday with a hard-earned 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 victory over Karen Khachanov.
Both combatants will enter the final unbeaten in 2023, adding to Sunday night’s blockbuster showdown when it’s all on the line for Djokovic and Tsitsipas.
Chasing a perfect 10 from 10 in Australian Open finals, Djokovic can also equal Rafael Nadal’s all-time record of 22 men’s major singles titles, while Tsitsipas will usurp Carlos Alcaraz as world No.1 if he can avenge his 2021 French Open final loss to the Serb.
“I like that number. It’s all about you, it’s singular, it’s one,” Tsitsipas said after extending his summer winning streak to 10 matches as his Australian coach Mark Philippoussis watched on from the Greek star’s box.
“These are the moments that I’ve been working hard for; to be able to play in finals like this, but finals that have a bigger meaning than just the final.
“It’s a grand slam final, I’m fighting for the No.1 spot, it’s a childhood dream to be capturing the No.1 spot one day. I’m close.
‘A childhood dream’
“I’m happy that this opportunity comes here in Australia and not somewhere else because this is a place of significance.”
It was a case of fourth time lucky for Tsitsipas, who fell at the semi-finals hurdle in three of his previous four appearances at what he regards as his ‘home’ major in Melbourne.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Tsitsipas, who was twice up a break in the first set against Khachanov before being pegged back and sent to a tiebreaker.
He was also called for foot faults several times during the first two sets as he repeatedly stepped across the centre service line.
The succession of calls clearly confused the 24-year-old before the chair umpire clarified what the issue was.
Tsitsipas wasted two match points against the 18th seed during the third set before securing his sixth – and most important – win in as many career meetings with Khachanov.
“I thought how hard I’ve worked to get to this position and it takes a little bit more,” Tsitsipas said after the three-hour, 21-minute battle.
“I wasn’t able to deliver that on the third set.
“I was extremely close to getting it, but it’s one of those moments that if you stick around and dedicate yourself even more and if you concentrate on these important moments even more, it pays off quite well.”
Tsitsipas said he was inspired by Marcos Baghdatis’ run to the 2006 Australian Open final – which he lost to Roger Federer – drawing on the Cypriot cult hero’s fighting qualities.
“Unfortunately it didn’t go his way but he’s in our hearts and I always consider him one of my favourites,” Tsitsipas said.
“I feel blessed for the fact that I’m able to play tennis at this level.
“I’ve been wanting for many years now to put Greek tennis on the map, and me and Maria (Sakkari) have done an incredible job, I think.”
Tsitsipas is relishing a shot at revenge against Djokovic after relinquishing a two-set lead against the former world No.1 in his only previous grand slam final in Paris.
“I’m playing great tennis. I’m enjoying myself. I just see no downside or negativity in what I’m trying to do out there,” Tsitsipas said.
“Even if it doesn’t work, I’m very optimistic and positive about any outcome, any opponent that I have to face.”
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