Tsitsipas Shows Resolve To Reach First Melbourne Final, World No. 1 Within Grasp
Stefanos Tsitsipas will play for his first Grand Slam title and the No. 1 Pepperstone ATP Ranking after he booked his place in the Australian Open final with a gritty win against Karen Khachanov. In a 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3 semi-final victory on Friday, the Greek dominated with his all-action game, keeping his opponent under constant pressure in the three-hour, 21-minute match.
What looked on course to be his fifth straight-sets win of the fortnight was complicated by a late Khachanov surge. The first-time Melbourne semi-finalist denied Tsitsipas' attempt to serve out the match at 5-4 in the third set, and in the tie-break he saved two match points with fearless forehand winners, sparking a run of four points to steal the set.
But as he did after failing to serve out the opening set, the Greek responded, seeing home a 3-0 lead in the final set to advance.
"I thought about how hard I've worked to get into this position, and it takes a little bit more," Tsitsipas said of his mentality entering the fourth set. "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 third seed awaits nine-time champion Novak Djokovic or unseeded American Tommy Paul in Sunday's title match. If it is the Serbian across the net, the pair will contest a straight shootout for World No. 1 in a rematch of the 2021 Roland Garros final, won by Djokovic in five sets.
"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," he said in his on-court interview. "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.
"Let's do it guys!" he continued, addressing the Rod Laver Arena crowd that has helped fuel his run. "Let's go!"
As he has done all tournament, Tsitsipas built his success on big serves and punishing forehands, with a big assist from his defence and mental fortitude. The 24-year-old continued to crush his forehand with perhaps more conviction that at any point in his career, dictating points off that wing at every opportunity.
Tsitsipas overcame adversity in the first set, in which he twice led by a break only for Khachanov to immediately level on both occasions. Despite being called for multiple time violations and a foot fault as the set built toward a tie-break, Tsitsipas regrouped and was the steadier player at the crucial moments, taking control of the match with a one-sided finish to the set.
The third seed faced just one break point in the final three sets — the crucial moment when Khachanov broke from 30/15 as Tsitsipas tightened in his effort to serve out the match.
Late in set two, Tsitsipas used the point of the match to bring up 15/40 in the ninth game, retrieving three consecutive Khachanov overheads before claiming a 22-ball rally with a forehand winner. He went on to seal the break and serve out the set to love.
"The most extraordinary point" @steftsitsipas digs deep and finds a way to win the rally 👏 @wwos • @espn • @eurosport • @wowowtennis • #AO2023 • #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/43Q9aEmlQ7— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 27, 2023
Tsitsipas did his damage early in set three, breaking in its third game, but he could not extend his lead despite forcing deuce in his next two return games. That came back to haunt him as Khachanov extended the match, but the Greek made no mistake the fourth set, clinching victory on his fourth match point.
After extending his perfect ATP Head2Head record to 6-0 against Khachanov, the Greek is through to his second Grand Slam final and his first in Melbourne after three previous semi-final defeats at what he calls his 'home Slam'.
Khachanov was bidding to reach his first Grand Slam final in what was his 24th major appearance. The 26-year-old reached the semi-finals at consecutive majors after advancing to that stage of a Slam for the first time at the 2022 US Open. Behind his Melbourne run, Khachanov moved up seven places this fortnight to No. 13 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.