Stefanos Tsitsipas will walk into the Rod Laver Arena this weekend, knowing that his destiny awaits him. The Greek will face the man who denied him in the French Open final in 2021, Novak Djokovic, after the Serbian overcame Tommy Paul in straight sets.
If that final two years ago is anything to go by, this meeting of the pair in Melbourne will be captivating. On that day in Paris, Tstsipas fought his way into a two-set lead, winning a tie-break in the first, before the unstoppable tsunami that is Djokovic got into his groove. Once the tide had turned, there was no stopping him and the 21-time Grand Slam winner came from two sets down to win his second of three majors in 2021.
It was a phenomenal year for Novak, but despite the devastating missed opportunity, it didn’t feel like a once in a lifetime moment for Tsitsipas. And so it has proved. 18 months later he is in another final, but this time he’s ready to become a Grand Slam winner for the very first time.
In some way he is incredibly unfortunate to be coming up against arguably the greatest male tennis player of all time again. Djokovic is one game away from winning 10 Australian Open titles and joining Rafa Nadal as the only two people in history to win 10 titles at the same Grand Slam event.
Novak may be on the brink of ‘десети’ - that’s ‘La Decima’ in Serbian - but Tsitsipas has, on paper, all the weapons to stop him. As we saw in that French Open final, he has the power to punish Djokovic in key situations while his 6ft 4in frame allows him to win service games relatively easily. In fact, he’s hit 69 aces so far in this tournament, a figure that puts him third in the standings behind Ben Shelton and Karen Khachanov. By comparison, Djokovic has hit 47 aces and although it isn’t a bullet-proof stat, it does give us some indication on the strength of their serves.
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This final will hopefully be a tight and entertaining encounter. Djokovic has dropped just one set on his way to the final and has found his last three matches, against Alex de Minaur, Andrey Rublev and Paul to be incredibly straight-forward. Tsitsipas will be desperate to get off to a good start, but wary of Djokovic’s powers of recovery. Even a two-set lead isn’t enough against this perennial winner.
But even if Tsitsipas is on the losing side of this final, 2023 feels like the year he finally becomes a champion. His loss to Daniil Medvedev in the semi-final last year was his fourth without success at that stage, but he’s broken that glass ceiling at this tournament and proved that his game has improved again as we begin the new season. He will need some luck along the way, mainly in the form of avoiding Djokovic and hoping he has an early exit somewhere along the line. The Serbian has beaten Tsitsipas in each of their last nine meetings and seems to have a spell on him but, now 24, the Greek is as good as he has ever been.
Beating Djokovic in a final is an incredibly tough task. He’s never lost a final at the Australian Open. But even if this opportunity slips him by, there’s an underlying feeling that Tsitsipas will become a Grand Slam champion. 2023 might just be the year that the ‘nearly-man’ becomes the main man.
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