AO2023: Date with destiny for Djokovic and Tsitsipas

Grand Slam glory, the world No.1 ranking up for grabs, the men's Australian Open final has so much riding on another potential Rod Laver Arena classic.

Stefanos Tsitsipas Australian Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

June 13th 2021 on Court Philippe-Chatrier, Stefanos Tsitsipas had Grand Slam glory within reach.

Unfortunately for the Greek, a certain Novak Djokovic erased his two sets lead to take the top prize in the trophy ceremony.

At that point the 'Big Three' star took to the on-court microphone and reassured his younger rival.

"I understand how difficult it is losing in a Grand Slam final," said Djokovic, who lost his first three Roland-Garros finals before a 2016 triumph.

"These are the matches and kind of occasions that you learn most from. He will come out stronger and I believe he will win many Grand Slams in the future."

Tsitsipas couldn’t be more ready

Two years later and Tsitsipas has his chance again. The world No.4 has played some spell-binding tennis this fortnight, gliding across the court, demonstrating plenty of grit.

Three previous Melbourne Park semi-final losses have been eradicated, Tsitsipas is speaking like man primed for Sunday's showdown. A first Grand Slam, the world No.1 ranking an extra reward. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

"I find myself in the position, couldn't be more ready for this moment," insisted the Greek.

"I'm playing great tennis. 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.

"This is something that has been sort of lacking in my game. I genuinely believe in what I'm able to produce. It might not go the way I want it to, but I put 110% out there."

Stefanos Tsitsipas / Demi-finale Open d'Australie 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Tsitsipas' mental fortitude will be pushed to the limit on Sunday. Djokovic's era-defining greatness continues to know no bounds. Adversity, a left hamstring hindrance, the crowds, pumped up opponents, the Serbian has been dealing with all sorts.

Still, the 21-time Grand Slam champion has roared on, fiercely driven to keep re-writing major history to equal Rafael Nadal's record of 22 majors.

"I'm, of course, very satisfied and pleased to be in another Grand Slam finals," said the 35-year-old.

"I think that the experience of being in this particular situation and circumstances before helps. 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."

Novak Djokovic Australian Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Golden opportunity in green and golden setting

Back in familiar surroundings, with a record 27-match winning streak on Rod Laver Arena, the memories of multiple triumphs keep spurring on Djokovic.

"I just love playing in Australia, love being here. That kind of emotion I feel like helped me to feel comfortable and to play well," stated the Serbian.

"I won Adelaide, now I'm in the finals of the Australian Open. I haven't lost a match in last five weeks in Australia."

When you think of it like that, the signs are ominous for Tsitsipas, however, Djokovic did reveal some vulnerability.

"Final stages of a slam at this stage of my career, I know every single Grand Slam is a golden opportunity for me to try to get another trophy. I don't know how many more I'll have, opportunities," mused the nine-time Australian Open winner.

"Of course, I feel it. I feel pressure. I feel stress as any other player. I feel nerves. I feel excitement. There's a lot of different emotions that go through.

"I guess in these kind of particular matches, at a final stages of a slam, you can expect to have crisis, one or two or three crises. The less the better."

His only "crisis" in the semi-final was letting a 5-1 first set lead slip to 5-5 versus Tommy Paul. He's been dominant, he's been defiant, he's been Djokovic.

The world No.5 has a commanding 10-2 record over the net from Tsitsipas, having won their last nine battles.

Novak Djokovic / Demi-finales Open d'Australie 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

"He's 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," added Djokovic.

"I know what's ahead of me, and I'm excited. Fortunately for me at this stage of my career, because of all the achievements, it is always basically every match or every tournament there is always something on the line, particularly when the Grand Slams are played."

Alongside his ardent local Greek fans and his supreme levels of tennis this fortnight, there is a factor of nostalgia driving Tsitsipas.

"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," stated the 24-year-old.

"This is a very humbling opportunity for me. Being in the finals here means a lot. Having started here as my first junior Grand Slams (2015), 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."