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Ricky’s preview and pick for the Australian Open final: Djokovic vs. Tsitsipas

Stefanos Tsitsipas will be playing in a Grand Slam final for the second time in his career on Sunday night at the Australian Open, and once again it is Novak Djokovic who stands in Tsitsipas’ way of a first slam title.

The Greek could hardly have come any closer when they squared off in the 2021 French Open championship match. He led two sets to love only to see Djokovic storm back for a 6-7(6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory to steal La Coupe des Mousquetaires.

Djokovic has won all four of their meetings since that Roland Garros final and he is on a nine-match winning streak overall against Tsitsipas that has him leading the head-to-head series 10-2. Tsitsipas’ wins came in 2018 (Toronto) and 2019 (Shanghai). Although it has been nothing but the short end for him ever since, that’s not to say the 24-year-old hasn’t been competitive. He fell to Djokovic in another five-setter in the 2020 French Open semis, three of their last four best-of-three matches have featured at least one tiebreaker (including a final-set ‘breaker last fall in Paris), and a 2021 Rome quarterfinal clash resulted in a 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 scoreline.

Being competitive with Djokovic is not something anyone has been able to do this fortnight. Enzo Couacaud managed to take a set in the second round, but the 35-year-old otherwise trounced Roberto Carballes Baena, Grigor Dimitrov, Alex de Minaur, Andrey Rublev, and Tommy Paul. The last three performances against De Minaur (6-2, 6-1, 6-2), Rublev (6-1, 6-2, 6-4), and Paul (7-5, 6-1, 6-2) were especially impressive.

Still, those results are not enough to write Tsitsipas off. Five of those six opponents are relatively defensive players who counter-punch–never a recipe for success against Djokovic. Rublev is the only one with significant firepower, but while the Russian’s forehand is huge he doesn’t serve big and doesn’t go to the net. With the way Djokovic is playing right now, nobody is going to beat him without winning free points on serve and keeping points short by finishing them at the net.

Unlike the Serb’s first six foes, Tsitsipas can do all of those things. The world No. 4’s all-court game has been on display throughout this fortnight, during which he has ousted Quentin Halys, Rinky Hijikata, Tallon Griekspoor, Jannik Sinner, Jiri Lehecka, and Karen Khachanov. Sinner snagged two sets and Khachanov took one, but Tsitsipas won the first two sets in both of those matches before taking his foot off the gas pedal. If the third seed can get off to another fast start on Sunday night, he could make things interesting.

“These are the moments I’ve been working hard for,” said Tsitsipas, who will also become No. 1 in the world for the first time if he takes the title. “To be able to play finals like this, but finals that have bigger meaning than just a final. 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.”

For no man has Australia been more significant than Djokovic, who is already the record holder with nine titles. Currently fifth in the rankings, Djokovic will also get back to the top spot with a win on Sunday.

“Winning Grand Slams and being the No. 1 in the world is probably the two biggest peaks that you can climb as a professional tennis player,” he commented. “So let’s see what happens.”

This will almost certainly be Djokovic’s toughest test of the tournament, but based on both his current form and his illustrious history Down Under you can’t bet against him.

Pick: Djokovic in 4

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on Twitter at @Dimonator.