Grand Slam trophy, number one and fans’ delirium: Djokovic and Tsitsipas play for a huge prize

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MELBOURNE – Tommy Paul speaks for Stefanos Tsitsipas to take note: “Novak Djokovic made me play very badly”.

As rarely heard from a tennis player after a defeat, the North American shared point by point the reasons for his failure against the Serbian in the semifinals of the Australian Open.

Paul, who “sucked” the way he was beaten, was clear and honest about his failed strategy against the nine-time champion in Melbourne. Djokovic did not let him execute any of the plans he had in his head: “I tried to do a little bit of serve and volley, I didn’t do it once. It’s tough when the first serve percentage is low. When I made my first serve, I felt he returned right on the baseline. So, I would automatically put myself on defense. Then you’re love-thirty and it’s hard to say ‘okay, I’m going to go up to the net now.’

But it wasn’t all about the net game, perhaps the weapon the Greek has up his sleeve. The 25-year-old continued, “I wanted drop shots. I didn’t get a chance to do that because he was playing so deep. I wanted to change the rhythms with my slice, but I missed my first three slices of the match. Okay, I’m going to then start hitting backhand because I’m not slicing well. He didn’t let me do anything I wanted to do, because he did very well what he wanted to do.”

It is a feeling that is surely very recurrent among those who have lost against the best version of the Serb, which is usually found every January in this part of the planet. Australia suits his tennis well, he hasn’t lost here since 2018 and what he produces on Rod Laver Arena is according to several voices, the hardest thing in tennis, only compared to what Rafael Nadal does on the Phillippe Chatrier.

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Speaking of the French Open’s main court, it is there the only place where Grand Slam matches between Djokovic and Tsitsipas have happened. The last and most significant, on the 2021 final. The epic match that “neither of the two remember”. That time, Djokovic came back from two sets to love. and won his second and last Musketeers’ Cup.

sitsipas y Djokovic during the championship’s final ceremony in Roland Garros 2021 // GETTY

Among the players of same generation as Tsitsipas, only Daniil Medvedev has been able to stop Djokovic in a Grand Slam final: “Maybe Stefanos could ask Daniil how he did it, although I’m not so sure that’s going to happen,” said Russian Karen Khachanov after losing to the Greek, with the joke between the lines alluding to the fact that Tsitsipas and Medvedev don’t quite get along.

Whether the Greek matches Medvedev’s achievement, or Djokovic wins his tenth Australian Open, the champion will be able to taste the most mouth-watering double prize in tennis: Grand Slam title and number one. What Carlos Alcaraz, who will be #2 from Monday, achieved four months ago in New York.

The Greek wants to try the spot for the first time in his career, while the champion of 21 majors could extend his record of 373 weeks at the top of the rankings.

A ‘battle’ also in the stands

The match between Djokovic and Tsitsipas adds more interesting components, such as the “Davis Cup” atmosphere that will be found on center court with fans from both Mediterranean countries.

The strong Serbian and Greek communities that started arriving in Australia in the various migration waves of the 20th century will make their presence felt at the Rod Laver Arena. “The Serbian and Greek community here are great. Historically we have got along very well, so I am confident that there will be no problems; on the contrary, I think they will support in a very respectful way,” the Serb anticipates.

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As journalist Alejandro Ciriza reports for El Pais, Melbourne’s Greeks correspond to the largest Greek-speaking population outside Greece and Cyprus, and the census in 2021 counted 425,000 descendants; meanwhile, Serbs in Victoria’s capital city correspond to 95,000.

“I grew up in a climate very similar to here, it always reminds me a bit of home; the conditions are similar, it’s not too humid and not too tropical. The French have Roland Garros, the British have Wimbledon, the Americans have the US Open and I have Australia,” says Tsitsipas, who has always had many compatriots in the stands at each of his matches.

As every year, Greek restaurants in Melbourne creates some kind of souvlaki (typical Greek preparation) with his name.

Although rather than on a traditional dish, Tsitsipas prefers to read his name on the trophy. Right there where “Novak Djokovic” is already repeated nine times.

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