As Novak Djokovic steps on court to face Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s championship match in Melbourne, one specific statistic from his career may well put him at ease — Nine Australian Open finals played, nine Australian Open finals won.
To increase that record to 10 from 10, Djokovic will look to pull through any difficult moments as calmly as he did against Tommy Paul in Friday’s semi-finals, where he recovered from losing four games in a row in the opening set to seal a 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 victory.
“I’m of course very satisfied and pleased to be in another Grand Slam final,” said Djokovic after riding out his rough patch to reach his 10th championship match at the hard-court major. “I mean, this is exactly what I’ve imagined and hoped that will happen when I came to Australia, with the intention to be in a position to fight for another Australian Open trophy.
“I think that the experience of being in this particular situation and circumstances before helps. I think also the fact that I never lost the Australian Open finals definitely serves as a great confidence booster prior to Sunday.”
Unlike in many of his past Australian Open final appearances, however, It is not just the Norman Brookes Trophy on the line for Djokovic this year in Melbourne. He could equal Rafael Nadal’s record of 22 Grand Slam crowns with victory over Tsitsipas, while whichever player wins is also set to claim the No. 1 spot in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings from Carlos Alcaraz.
Djokovic leads the Greek 10-2 in the pair’s ATP Head2Head series, including a five-set championship match comeback victory at Roland Garros in 2021. Yet he will take nothing for granted in the knowledge that the 24-year-old third seed has more than enough incentive to bring his best to Rod Laver Arena.
“Of course, still the job needs to be done on the court,” said Djokovic, who has won his past nine tour-level meetings against the Greek. “I’m going to play against Tsitsipas, who is in a great shape, great form, has been playing some of his best tennis. I’m sure that he’s going to be very motivated to win his first Grand Slam title.
“I know his game pretty well. He knows my game well. We played several times in different surfaces… I know what’s ahead of me, and I’m excited. Fortunately for me at this stage of my career, because of all the achievements, it is always basically every match or every tournament there is always something on the line, particularly when the Grand Slams are played.
“Of course, I’m privileged to be in this position, and I’m hoping for the best.”
In order to defeat the high-flying Tsitsipas, Djokovic will likely have to avoid any lapses in his level like the one he suffered in the opening set against Paul on Friday. The Serbian led 5-1, 40/30 but allowed the American back into the set at 5-5, before Djokovic regained his composure just in time to clinch a set in which he hit 24 unforced errors.
“Today in the first set, obviously [I was] 5-1 up, serving for the set [with] a set point, then things quickly changed, and I was really tight on the court,” said Djokovic. “He came back to five-all. I was struggling also physically and emotionally.
“I guess in these kinds of particular matches, [in the] final stages of a slam, you can expect to have a crisis, one or two or three crises. The less the better, but I [had one today]. I’m really glad to overcome that crisis towards the end of the first set. Then [it] was quite smooth sailing, I would say, from the beginning of the second towards the end of the match.
“Early in the second, early in the third I managed to make an early break, distance myself results-wise, and finish out the match in good style.”
Tying Nadal in the Grand Slam titles race with victory in Melbourne would set Djokovic up to push for more historic achievements in 2023. When asked about his longer-term plans for his playing career, however, the 35-year-old acknowledged it was not just the prospect of setting more records that is driving his continued commitment to the sport.
“[A] personal reason is that I feel on the tennis court I always have an opportunity to learn something new about myself [and] fight with my own demons, that I guess we all have,” said Djokovic. “When we’re on the tennis court in the midst of a battle, some of the things surface, and I have to deal with it. So, it’s a great school of life for me.
“Then at the same time, of course, I have professional goals and ambitions. Those are Grand Slams and being No. 1 in the world. Those two [are] probably pinnacles of the professional tennis world [and they] have always been there as goals for me. So, I do want to make more history of this sport, no doubt.”