Serbian star Novak Djokovic beat American Tommy Paul on Friday to play the final of the Australian Open on Sunday against Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, his last hurdle to match Rafael Nadal’s 22 Grand Slams.
Although far from his best, especially in the first set, the world number 5 defeated Paul (No. 35) 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 to secure his tenth final in Melbourne, with a balance of all of them won.
In the reissue of the Roland Garros final in 2021, not only the title will be at stake, but also the ATP number 1, now in the hands of the Spanish Carlos Alcaraz.
"Winning Grand Slams and being number one in the world are probably the highest peaks you can reach as a professional tennis player. So let’s see what happens"said "Nole" on the 15th anniversary of his first title in Melbourne.
The match surely did not start as he expected, with his father’s seat empty in the box, after he decided to be absent to "do not disturb" after the controversy he caused by posing with fans with pro-Russian symbols on Wednesday.
Maybe because of that absence, maybe because of the rarefied atmosphere in the Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic appeared far from the insulting superiority shown in the two previous matches against the Australian Álex de Miñaur and the Russian Andrey Rublev.
Double faults, few first serves, repeated backhand blows to the net, arguments with the referee, complaints to the stands… Djokovic was not comfortable but, even so, he was placed with the serve and 5-1 in favor.
Something went wrong and the American, who shortly before turned the public on by rescuing a drop shot into the net, began to enter the game and taking advantage of a deflected backhand from Djokovic, managed to cut a break.
What seemed like an accident turned into a threat two games later, when a double fault and three unforced errors from the Serb gave the American another break, who finished the equalizer with a much-applauded backhand volley.
They were the last misses Djokovic conceded in the set. With a scoreless game, he ended Paul’s 4-0 run and then broke his serve to win the set to booing from the crowd.
It was enough for the human version of Djokovic to minimize the numerous errors of the first set (24 unforced errors, as many as in Rublev’s entire match) to end the hopes of Paul, who conceded five games before being able to hold his serve.
Similar story in the last quarter where a Djokovic eager to finish as soon as possible endorsed a new quarter of 4-0 and then kept the two remaining serves without conceding a single point.