Djokovic Passes Paul, Sets No.1 Showdown With Tsitsipas In Australian Open Final
Novak Djokovic stands on the brink of a record-extending 10th Australian Open title after he overcame a patchy start to defeat Tommy Paul 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 on Friday in the semi-finals at Melbourne Park.
The Serbian struggled to find his best level at times during his maiden tour-level meeting with the American, but that did not apply to his trademark razor-sharp returning. Despite dropping four straight games from 5-1 to let Paul back into the opening set on Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic ultimately converted seven of 11 break points to move within one win of equalling Rafael Nadal’s tally of 22 major crowns.
Djokovic’s two-hour, 20-minute win set a championship match clash against Stefanos Tsitsipas, who earlier defeated Karen Khachanov 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3. Sunday’s final will also be a straight shootout for No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, with the winner set to leapfrog Carlos Alcaraz into top spot on Monday.
"Of course it [adds extra significance]," said Djokovic, who leads Tsitsipas 10-2 in the pair's ATP Head2Head series. "Winning Grand Slams and being the No. 1 in the world are probably the two biggest peaks that you can climb as a professional tennis player. Let's see what happens."
Although he did not hit the lights-out levels of his past two matches against Alex de Minaur and Andrey Rublev, Djokovic was comfortable throughout the majority of his clash with Paul. The only exception was an uncharacteristic lapse in the first set, when Paul took advantage of a flurry of wayward groundstrokes from the Serbian to recover a double-break deficit and level at 5-5.
Despite hitting 24 unforced errors in the opening set, Djokovic regained his composure to claim it, with some clinical groundstrokes earning him a decisive break in the 12th game. He carried that momentum through to dominate the second and third sets, winning the first four games of both to deny his less-experienced opponent any opportunity to settle.
"I was really fortunate to hold my nerve toward the end of the first set," said Djokovic. "It was a key. After that I started swinging through the ball more, so I'm just really pleased to get through to another final.”
Paul gave a good account of himself in his first Grand Slam semi-final, growing increasingly confident in extended baseline exchanges with Djokovic and forcing the fourth seed to fend off three break points at 2-0 in the second set. He struggled to regularly hit through the Serbian’s resilient defence, however, with Djokovic hitting 31 winners to Paul’s 18 overall.
Friday’s win extended Djokovic’s winning streak at the Australian Open to 27 matches. After another dominant display, the 35-year-old reiterated how much he relished the vocal support of the fans on Rod Laver Arena, where he first lifted the Australian Open trophy in 2008.
"It means everything, especially at this stage of my career," said Djokovic. "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."
Paul will be rewarded for reaching his maiden Grand Slam semi-final this fortnight in Melbourne with a spot in the Top 20 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings for the first time. The 25-year-old has risen 16 places to No. 19 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings behind his best major run.