Stefanos Tsitsipas will try to live out a dream forged 17 years ago when he takes on Novak Djokovic for the Australian Open title on Sunday.
For the second successive grand slam, the winner will also become world number one, with either Tsitsipas or Djokovic overtaking US Open champion Carlos Alcaraz.
If it is Tsitsipas, he will become the first grand slam champion from Greece having already become the first player from his country to reach a final at the French Open in 2021, when he led Djokovic by two sets but lost.
It would be fitting if the 24-year-old achieved the feat in Melbourne, though, given it was here he broke through into the big time by beating Roger Federer and making the last four in 2019, while it was also the Australian Open that inspired his tennis ambitions.
Tsitsipas spoke after his semi-final win over Karen Khachanov about cheering on Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis as a seven-year-old when he made the final here back in 2006.
“I remember watching it on TV saying to myself, ‘I want to be there one day myself. I want to recreate that feeling for me’. I knew that’s a very long journey to get there,” he said.
“But I very much believed it. First of all it’s your ego that speaks. You either have it or not. As a kid, I was very confident. Thank God I was good in my country.
“Starting from that, I knew if I’m able to get out of my country and compete in other countries, European leagues – I proved myself over and over again that I’m actually good. I did finish as a junior number one. Now I want to do it in the men’s side.”
Like Djokovic, Tsitsipas is unbeaten so far in 2023 and has exuded an air of great confidence that he will need to maintain if he is to do what no one has yet managed and defeat the Serbian in an Australian Open final.
He will not want to dwell too closely on their head to head, with Djokovic having won 10 of their past 12 meetings, including the last nine.
But most of them have been close and Tsitsipas has the weapons to potentially trouble the nine-time champion.
“I’m playing great tennis,” he said. “I’m enjoying myself. I just see no downside or negativity in what I’m trying to do out there. Even if it doesn’t work, I’m very optimistic and positive about any outcome, any opponent that I have to face.”
Should Djokovic win, he will again draw level with Rafael Nadal at the top of the men’s standings with 22 grand slam titles.
He is getting close to the all-time records, with his 33rd slam final seeing him equal the tally of Serena Williams and only one behind Chris Evert, while he is within sight of Margaret Court’s overall slam record of 24 titles.
Although he would become the third oldest Australian Open champion in the open era, at 35, Djokovic, barring a flare-up of his left hamstring, appears fitter than ever and his form this fortnight has been mostly exceptional.
“I think that the experience of being in this particular situation and circumstances before helps,” he said. “I think also the fact that I never lost the Australian Open finals definitely serves as a great confidence booster prior to Sunday.
“But, of course, still the job needs to be done on the court. 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. I know what’s ahead of me, and I’m excited.”
Djokovic admitted after his semi-final victory over Tommy Paul that he had been affected by the furore over his father – unwittingly, the family insist – posing for pictures with Vladimir Putin supporters during a pro-Russia demonstration.
It remains to be seen whether Srdjan Djokovic will attend the final having stayed away from the clash with Paul, but either way it is certain to be a lively atmosphere given the large Serbian and Greek communities in Melbourne.
“I hope that all the people who are going to come to the finals are going to be there for tennis and sport, because that’s what we all wish for,” said Djokovic.
“The Serbian and Greek communities are big, for sure. The Serbs and Greeks historically get along very well. I just don’t think there’s going to be any conflict on and off the court in terms of the crowd.
“I think I’m confident that people will support their respective players in a respectful way, and let’s see what happens.”
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