Novak Djokovic moved into his 10th Australian Open final with a 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 win over American Tommy Paul Friday night in the semifinals.
“It means everything, especially at this stage of my career,” said Djokovic who is a win for matching Rafael Nadal’s 22 Grand Slam titles. “I need that engine, I need that energy and I’m really thankful that I still have enough gas in my legs to be able to play in this level on one of the biggest tennis courts in the world.”
Despite a flurry of errors, the Serb got off to a flying start racing out to a 5-1 lead over a nervy Paul who had never been past the fourth round at a Grand Slam before.
With the 2-break lead, Djokovic was jawing with his box, complaining over something. He also appeared out of breath at times. An ace would give him a set point at 5-1, 40-30. Things would change.
Paul would settle down and improbably not just get one break back but two! Suddenly, Djokovic looked in trouble. His game was falling apart on his favorite court as the 25-year-old Paul just pounded away.
Djokovic managed to hold for 6-5 and then Paul got tight again up 30-0. Djokovic locked in and broke to take the opener in an hour.
The two left the court and when they returned, Djokovic was a new man. The former No. 1 ran off seven straight games to all but ice the match.
Djokovic has won his last 27 matches at the Australian Open, 40 straight in Australia and he’s into a men’s record-extending 33rd Slam.
“Some long rallies, you could really feel them,” said Djokovic. “We both had heavy legs I think in the first set but yes, I was really fortunate to hold my nerves towards the end of the first set. It was a key.
“After that, I starting swinging through the ball more.”
On Sunday, he’ll battle familiar foe Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Greek used his his heavy forehand and variety to shake off a third set choke to win in four sets 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3.
“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.”
After a break filled opener, Tsitsipas seized control of the match in the second breaking for 5-4 and then serving it out for a 2-0 lead.
But Tsitsipas would come unglued serving for the match at 5-3 in the second and then he missed two match points in the breaker.
Tsitsipas would shake it off in the fourth with a quick break which led him to his second career Grand Slam final and first in Australia.
“I thought about how hard I’ve worked to get into this position, and it takes a little bit more,” Tsitsipas said. “I wasn’t able to deliver that in the third set; I was extremely close to getting it.
“It’s one of these moments that if you stick around, if you dedicate yourself even more and if you concentrate on these important moments even more, it pays off quite well. And always having that ambience in the background somewhere feels so good when I’m able to hit the ball and get such a reward back from the fans.”
The winner on Sunday not only gets the first Grand Slam of the season but also the No. 1 ranking. The loser will be No. 3 behind Carlos Alcaraz.
“These are the moments I’ve been working hard for. To be able to play finals like this, but finals that have bigger meaning that just a final,” Tsitsipas said on court. “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. I’m happy that this opportunity comes here in Australia and not somewhere else, because this is a place of significance.”
Khachanov came up just short again in his second straight Slam semifinal.
“Obviously I’m super happy, super proud of the results, second consecutive semifinal,” said Khachanov. “I fought hard. I was losing actually in the third set. He was serving for the match. He had two match points. I never give up.
“I think it was very close, a very good level match. He took over in some important moments, some important points. He got the win, so simple as that.”
Djokovic leads their series 10-2 winning their last nine including three to end 2022.
“I respect him a lot,” Djokovic said of Tsitsipas. “He has improved over the years. I actually think he is one of the most interesting guys off the tour, with his interests off the court, his hairstyle and all, but it’s all business on Sunday for both of us.
“Let the better player win.”
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