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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Friday January 27, 2023

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic stretched his Australian Open winnning streak to 27 and reached his 20th final in Melbourne.

Photo Source: Getty

Novak Djokovic has made a legendary career out of peaking at the right time, and the 21-time Grand Slam champion appears to be in the process of doing just that, once again, in Melbourne.

Tennis Express

The nine-time Australian Open champion sped past American Tommy Paul on Friday night in Rod Laver Arena, 7-5, 6-1, 6-2, to set the record for the longest Australian Open winning streak at 27 and book a spot in a record 33rd Grand Slam final, and tenth in Melbourne.

Men's singles Grand Slam finals, all-time

Djokovic, 33
Federer, 31
Nadal, 30
Lendl, 19
Sampras, 18

How does he feel after battling through six rounds with a nagging hamstring injury keeping him grounded more than usual?

“Perfect. It's 110 percent,” he joked as he looked ahead to a clash with Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final that will double as a battle for the ATP’s No.1 ranking.

In reality, Djokovic may be struggling ever so slightly with the injury but he’s far better off than he was at the start of the tournament. Djokovic is still wearing the thick bandage to protect his left hamstring but he has turned on the afterburners in his game as he has pummeled his last three opponents to the tune of 20 games lost.

After a minor wobble in the opening set against his 25-year-old opponent on Friday, one that saw him squander a double-break 5-1 lead before he took the set 7-5, Djokovic was in rude form as he poked and prodded Paul’s game, controlling every facet of the tennis and dominating off the serve and return.

Early in the second set the play was physical as Paul looked for ways to disarm Djokovic. He had moments, but in the end came up empty.

“I've been in this situation so many times before in my career and I think experience helps also but obviously on the court, moment to moment, point to point. it's a great battle, first of all with yourself and then of course the opponent,” Djokovic said. “We both had the heavy legs in the first set. I was really fortunate to kind of hold my nerves towards the end of the first set. It was a key – after that I started swinging through the ball more so you know I'm just really pleased to get through to another final.”

As the second and third sets wore on the contest felt more like a Djokovic clinic. Paul didn’t play poorly, there just wasn’t much he could do with Djokovic clicking through the gears on the court that he has dominated like no other player.

Djokovic improves to 88-8 lifetime at Melbourne, and he remains a perfect 19-0 at the Australian Open in semifinals and finals. He will try to make it a perfect 20 on Sunday against the man he rallied from two sets to love down against in the 2021 Roland-Garros final.

Djokovic has won nine consecutive matches against Tsitsipas, after losing two of their first three meetings.

It’s safe to say that the 21-time major champion started to take Tsitsipas more seriously after those early losses at the hands of the Greek.

“It was also his first Grand Slam final and it was a really physical, mental, emotional battle,” Djokovic said of their clash on the terre battue in Paris. “It always is with Stefanos. I respect him a lot. He has improved over the years. I actually think he's actually one of the most interesting guys on the tour. You know, with his interest off the court, and his hairstyle and all, but it's all business on Sunday for both of us – let the better player win.”

Tsitsipas, who defeated Karen Khachanov in four sets to reach his second Grand Slam final on Friday, is excited to take on the challenge.

“All I have to say is this is a very humbling opportunity for me,” he said. “Being in the finals here means a lot. Having started here as one of my first junior Grand Slams, and being now in the finals of the men's event, is as important as my very first steps that I took on the tennis court.

“I'm going to grasp this opportunity and get myself ready for this big day.”

There’s no telling what his emotions will be like when he steps onto the court and sees the most dominant force in this tournament’s history. From Djokovic’s side, it will be a little less daunting. He’s had success after success imprinted into his memory and he’ll be guided by the same self-belief that has taken him through epic finals in Melbourne, like the five hour and 53-minute epic with Rafael Nadal in 2012.

After being deported before he could make a run at defending his title in 2022, Djokovic will feel extra motivation to reclaim the throne and to move back to the top of the ATP rankings as well. He can achieve both missions in one fell swoop, and return to where he must feel he has belonged all the while.

“Winning Grand Slams, and being the number one in the world are probably the two biggest peaks you can climb as a professional tennis player,” he said. “So yeah, let's see what happens.”


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