Djokovic, Tsitsipas to clash in Australian Open final
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP):
Of all of his considerable talents, Novak Djokovic’s ability to cast aside whatever appears to stand in his way might be the most valuable.
So forget about the potential distraction of his father’s decision to stay away from Rod Laver Arena for Djokovic’s semifinal against unseeded American Tommy Paul at the Australian Open yesterday after getting caught up in a flap over being seen with a group waving banned Russian flags at the tournament. Forget about the heavily taped left hamstring that was an issue for Djokovic last week. Forget about just how physical the points were against Paul. Forget about how Djokovic produced twice as many unforced errors, 24, as winners, 12, in the opening set. Forget about the lull of four games in a row that went to Paul. Forget about the brief back-and-forth with the chair umpire.
And remember this: Djokovic simply does not lose semifinals or finals at Melbourne Park. Does. Not. Lose. And so, not surprisingly, he overcame some shaky play in the early going and took over the match, beating Paul 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 to close in on a 10th Australian Open championship and 22nd Grand Slam title overall.
From five-all in the first set, Djokovic claimed seven games in a row and 14 of the last 17.
“I’m really thankful that I still have enough gas in my legs to able to play at this level,” said Djokovic, a 35-year-old from Serbia. “Some long rallies, you could really feel them. We both had heavy legs in the first set. I was really fortunate to kind of hold my nerves toward the end of the first set. That was a key. After that, I started swinging through the ball more.”
He extended his Australian Open winning streak to 27 matches, the longest in the Open era, which dates to 1968.
There was a pause in that string of victories a year ago, of course, when Djokovic was deported from Australia before competition began because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. He still has not got the shots, but the strict border controls established by the country during the pandemic have been eased.
“Of course, it’s not pleasant for me to go through this with all the things that I had to deal with last year and this year in Australia. It’s not something that I want or need,” said Djokovic, who defended his father, Srdjan, for standing with a group of people waving Russian flags – at least one showing an image of Vladimir Putin – after the son’s quarterfinal victory against a Russian opponent.
“I hope that people will let it be,” Djokovic said, “and we can focus on tennis.”
That is what the No. 4-seeded Djokovic himself will hope to do Sunday when he takes on No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who eliminated Karen Khachanov 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3 to reach his first final at Melbourne Park and second at a Slam.
Whoever wins the final will rise to No. 1 in the ATP rankings. For Djokovic, that would mark a return to a spot he has occupied for more weeks than anyone; for Tsitsipas, if would mark a debut there.
“I like that number. It’s all about you. It’s singular. It’s ‘1,’” said Tsitsipas, who was 0-3 in Australian Open semifinals before yesterday. “These are the moments that I’ve been working hard for.”
Djokovic is now a perfect 19-0 over the last two rounds in Melbourne, and his nine triumphs there already are a men’s record. If he can add one more to go alongside his seven titles at Wimbledon, three at the U.S. Open and two at the French Open, Djokovic would equal Nadal for the most Grand Slam trophies earned by a man.
Tsitsipas’ other major final came at the 2021 French Open, when he grabbed the first two sets before blowing that big lead and losing to Djokovic in five.