Match Preview

Peaking Djokovic Meets Rublev In Australian Open QFs

Paul faces Shelton in all-American clash
January 24, 2023
Novak Djokovic is chasing a record-extending 10th Australian Open title in Melbourne.
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
Novak Djokovic is chasing a record-extending 10th Australian Open title in Melbourne. By ATP Staff

With Stefanos Tsitsipas and Karen Khachanov already through to the Australian Open semi-finals, four men will bid to join them from the bottom half of the draw on Wednesday at Melbourne Park.

Novak Djokovic continues his bid for a record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title when he faces Andrey Rublev in the evening session, after unseeded Americans Tommy Paul and Ben Shelton square off during the day on Rod Laver Arena. breaks down the remaining singles quarter-final matchups, as well as the two doubles quarter-finals on the Day 10 schedule.

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[4] Novak Djokovic (SER) vs. [5] Andrey Rublev

Djokovic’s quest for a record-extending 10th Australian Open title has been far from smooth. Plagued by a left hamstring strain suffered en route to the title at an ATP 250 in Adelaide in early January, the Serbian struggled physically during victories against Enzo Couacaud and Grigor Dimitrov in Melbourne.

However, despite concerns, the 35-year-old looked back to his best during his fourth-round win against Alex de Minaur, moving freely as he dropped just five games to reach the quarter-finals.

“I always believe I can go all the way in terms of my tennis. But the way my leg felt before tonight wasn't giving me too many hopes, so to say, for the entire tournament, to go all the way through. Tonight, I feel that, so I feel positive about it,” said Djokovic following his win against the Australian.

“I don't know [if it was the best] ever, but definitely the best tennis I've played this year, this tournament, so far this season.”

Chasing a record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title, Djokovic next turns his attention now turning to fifth seed Rublev. The fourth seed, who will rise to No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings if he lifts the trophy in Melbourne, holds a 2-1 ATP Head2Head series lead against the 25-year-old.

Rublev enters the quarter-final clash off the back of a dramatic five-set win against Holger Rune. The World No. 6 saved two match points against the #NextGenATP Dane, rallying from 2-5 in the decider to prevail.

"I never in my life was able to win matches like this," Rublev said post-match. "This is the first ever time that I won something like this, especially in a very special tournament, the Australian Open, to be in the quarter-finals. So it’s something I will remember for sure all my life. I have no words, I am shaking and happy.”

When Rublev takes to Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday evening, he will be aiming to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final. The 12-time tour-level titlist, who holds a 0-6 record in major quarter-finals, knows what is required if he is to upset Djokovic.

“I know that Novak is very tough player to beat, especially [at] the Slams,” Rublev said. “He has the best experience to win these kind of matches. He's one of the best in history. The only chance I have is if I play my best tennis, just fight for every ball, and that's it. That's the only chance.”

Tommy Paul (USA) vs. Ben Shelton (USA)

Excited but not satisfied — that was Paul's characterisation of his feelings after advancing to his first Grand Slam quarter-final. The same could be said for Shelton, who left the United States for the first time with "no expectations" for the Australian swing.

Both men have a big opportunity against an unseeded opponent in the biggest match of each player's career. Paul booked his place in the last eight with a four-set victory against 24th seed Roberto Bautista Agut, while Shelton won his second five-set match of the tournament against countryman J.J. Wolf.

While it will be the pair's first ATP Head2Head meeting, they have developed a relationship off the court and practised together at last year's US Open, where Shelton made his Grand Slam debut as a wild card, which he earned by winning the 2022 NCAA singles title as a Florida Gator.

"He's been one of the American guys who's kind of almost taken me under their wing," the 20-year-old said of Paul. "Kind of helped me navigate some of the early stages of a professional career. He's been a good friend. I'm excited to get to play him on a big stage like this."

Shelton and Paul were joined by countryman Korda in the quarter-finals, marking the first time since 2000 that three American men have reached the last eight in Melbourne — and the first time at any Slam since the 2005 US Open. Adding to the historic fortnight for the U.S., the 20-year-old Shelton is the first American man since 2003 Wimbledon years to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final before turning 21.

Paul, 25, is happy to be part of the wave of success for his nation: "We know there's going to be an American in the semis, so I'm really excited about that," he said.

The World No. 35 reached the Wimbledon fourth round last season for his previous best major result. He will look to lean on his experience and his returning prowess to disarm his lefty opponent's biggest weapons: his serve and his forehand. But as far as tactics go, Paul still has some prep work to do before stepping onto the court against a new opponent.

"I would say I know him better as a person than as a player, just because I've spent a decent amount of time with him in the locker room," Paul said of Shelton. "I know his dad [former pro and current Florida head coach Bryan Shelton] from when his dad was at the USTA when I was younger.

"I actually haven't seen him play very much. This will probably be the first time that I'll have to watch some film on my opponent in this whole tournament so far. I'll probably watch his match with J.J. and talk to my coach. I think my coach has watched him play a few times.

"We'll have to get a game plan going."

Doubles QFs

Top seeds Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski will continue their bid for a first Grand Slam title as a team when they play Australian wild cards Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler. The Dutch-British tandem, who won seven tour-level crowns last season, has performed strongly in Melbourne, dropping just one set en route to the quarter-finals.

In Wednesday’s second doubles quarter-final, eighth seeds Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos face Andreas Mies and John Peers. Granollers and Zeballos are aiming to reach the semi-finals in Melbourne for the second consecutive year as a team, while Mies and Peers joined forces at the start of 2023.

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