Novak Djokovic remains on course to win a record 22nd Grand Slam title after beating American Tommy Paul in straight sets in the Australian Open semi-final on Friday, setting up a mouth-watering final with Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The Serb faced stiff opposition from striker Paul in their 7-5 6-1 6-2 victory to reach his 33rd Grand Slam final.
Her win came just hours after Tsitsipas beat Russia’s Karen Khachanov 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 to reach her second career Grand Slam final.
The final promises to be thrilling and the winner will be crowned the new men’s world No. Tsitsipas is in the hunt for his first Grand Slam title, while Djokovic is just one game away from equaling Rafael Nadal’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles.
Despite a hamstring injury in the early rounds of the tournament, Djokovic has been dominant in Melbourne, sweeping his last four opponents without dropping a set. But off the pitch, there has been controversy.
Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, was not present for Friday’s game after he was pictured at a protest with fans holding Russian flags, expressing his support for Russia.
In a video posted to YouTube by a known Vladimir Putin supporter, 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 its invasion of Ukraine – while holding a Russian flag with Putin’s face on it. “Long live Russia,” he said.
In a statement released before the game, Srdjan said he was in Melbourne “to support my son only” and “had no intention of making headlines or causing any such disruption”.
“So there is no interruption 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 semis, the 35-year-old took a 5-1 lead in the first set. But, Paul – the huge underdog after a dream run to the semis – fought back by breaking Djokovic’s serve twice to level the set at 5-5.
Djokovic was able to correct the slippage and close the first set. As the game wore on, his class showed as he carefully dissected his American opponent, converting seven of 11 break points.
The win, which took Djokovic two hours and 20 minutes, still leaves him in contention for a record 10th Australian Open title.
Djokovic said his level was “perfect” ahead of Sunday’s final.
“Of course you’re not as fresh as you were at the start of the tournament, but we’ve put in a lot of off-season hours. I know what’s expected and I’ve been in so many positions in my career,” a- he said during his interview on the ground immediately afterwards.
“It’s a big battle, with yourself and the opponent. Long exchanges and we felt heavy legs in the first set but I was lucky to keep my nerves. After that I was swinging the ball more and I’m just thrilled to have another final.
It was the end of the road for Paul who had shocked many by reaching the first Grand Slam semi-final of his career.
Currently ranked No. 35 in the world, Paul became the first American to reach the Australian Open’s last four since Andy Roddick in 2009 when he beat compatriot Ben Shelton in the quarter-finals.
The 25-year-old is now guaranteed to break into the world top 20 for the first time, having beaten top 30 players Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Roberto Bautista Agut on his way to the last four.
For Tsitsipas, it’s an opportunity 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 down 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 after his semi-final win over Khachanov he said he was playing some of the best tennis in the game. 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 out, I’m very optimistic and positive about any result, any opponent I have to face.
“It’s something that was a bit lacking in my game. I sincerely believe in what I’m capable of producing. It’s more than enough. I’m going to [it] this way… I strive to achieve this every day. It may not turn out the way I want it to, but I put 110% there.
Although his procession to the final was briefly interrupted by Khachanov who saved two match points in the third set, Tsitsipas was able to beat the Russian in three hours and 21 minutes.
And with a place at the top of the world rankings at stake, Tsitsipas said he was living a “childhood dream”.
“I like that number… It’s a Grand Slam final, I’m fighting for the No. 1 spot, it’s a childhood dream to capture that No. 1 spot one day,” said he declared.
“I’m close. I’m happy that this opportunity is here in Australia and not somewhere else because it’s an important place.
Djokovic holds the record for time as world No. 1 with 373 weeks. Seeded fourth at the Australian Open and currently ranked No. 5 in the world, the Serb has played a limited schedule in 2022 due to his decision not to get a Covid-19 vaccine.
He was expelled from Australia before the start of the 2022 Australian Open, and he was unable to travel to compete in some tournament-hosting regions – including the United States – due to his vaccination status, thereby losing many of his ranking points that he could not. defend.