PRESS CONFERENCE: Novak Djokovic reaches his 10th Australian Open final

Hi Steve,

Yesterday you mentioned that, to build affinity with a player, we need to see him or her in action quite frequently. The logic behind that struck me in a big way while watching Stefanos Tsitsipas win his semifinal match versus Karen Khachanov. This also explains why I’m excited to see Tsitsipas play the second Grand Slam singles final of his career.

Tsitsipas in recent years has had a lot of airtime—nine title runs, many trips to the late stages of the majors, with dramatic five-setters at all of them. But things other than Tsitsipas’ tennis have also cluttered the picture, most notably his father’s impassioned mid-match coaching efforts. Over the course of 2022, I found myself feeling increasingly vexed by Tsitsipas. Would he figure out ways to manage his father?What about those bathroom breaks?

And then, as this year’s Australian Open unfolded, much of the animus I felt towards Tsitsipas melted in the presence of the joyful, expressive brand of tennis he has played. As Tsitsipas has smothered one opponent after another, he has been dynamic, fit, mobile, attentive. There have been big serves, massive forehands, improved backhands, sharp volleys, conclusive overheads. He’ll of course need every one of those assets versus Djokovic.

I wonder how Tsitsipas has processed what happened in his only other Slam final appearance. That took place at Roland Garros in 2021, Tsitsipas winning the first two sets versus Djokovic before losing, 6-4 in the fifth. Hopefully, the emotional letdown of that defeat is less part of the Tsitsipas memory bank than the more rational tennis-related lessons he took away from such an opportunity. In contrast, Djokovic at a recent press conference didn’t even recall that match, a faux pas he immediately apologized for.

Late last fall, as the Djokovic game kicked into high gear during the European fall season after missing the US Open, it struck me then that he was making a major statement about who really was the world’s best tennis player. What began in Europe has continued in Australia. Djokovic too has played great tennis these last two weeks, even as he’s grappled with a hamstring injury. The only time he’s lost a set came in the second round, when qualifier Enzo Couacaud squeaked out one in a tiebreaker. Now he’ll play his tenth Australian Open final. He’s never lost one.

So Sunday’s final is a potential rite of passage for Tsitsipas—and business as usual for Djokovic.

Steve, much as so many factors favor Djokovic, what do you think needs to happen for Tsitsipas to win?


Djokvoic has owned Tsitsipas, winning their last nine encounters. But this is still a very compelling final.

Djokvoic has owned Tsitsipas, winning their last nine encounters. But this is still a very compelling final.


Agreed on Tsitsipas. I’ve liked his slashing game without always liking the other things he brings to the court—the illegal coaching, the protracted bathroom breaks, and a sort of deliberate obliviousness to everything around him, including the rules of the game and a sense of fairness toward his opponents. No matter how many times he was warned about on-court coaching, no matter how much it irritated other players, he and his father just kept at it.

I think what turned me back to liking the guy was, perversely, his notorious match against Nick Kyrgios last year at Wimbledon. In the middle of one of Kyrgios’ screaming sessions, Tsitsipas mentioned to the chair umpire that Kyrgios’ towels were overflowing into his own bin at the back of the court. During his complaint, Tsitsipas referred to Kyrgios, with quiet irony, as “the gentleman.” That made me laugh more than anything else I heard on a tennis court last year.

Still, the joke didn’t do much for his game. He lost that match, and when he followed it with a first-round exit at the US Open, I wondered if Tsitsipas, like some others in his Next Gen cohort, might not be the future Slam winner we anticipated. For all of his athletic assets, his backhand was the hole in his boat that he just couldn’t fill.

But he loves Australia, and you could see the change in his attitude right away when he beat Matteo Berrettini in United Cup. Buoyed by the Greek-Aussie crowd, Tsitsipas played with more positive energy than normal that day, and he’s kept that positivity and proactiveness since. You could see it again in the Australian Open semis on Friday: Tsitsipas served for the first set and was broken, he served for the third set and was broken, he squandered match points in the third-set tiebreaker—but he won anyway.

Now comes the ultimate test. As you said, Joel, many factors favor Djokovic, first and foremost his undefeated record in Australian Open finals, and his nine straight wins over Tsitsipas. (Djokovic is 10-2 against him overall.) Despite that, Tsitsipas has the capability to take the match to Djokovic. I thought their semifinal in Bercy last year, which Djokovic won in a third-set tiebreaker, was one of the best matches of the season. This time, the biggest factor for Tsitsipas may simply be belief. Can he maintain it if they get to a tiebreaker, or if he goes up a set, or if he falls behind early?

Either way, this final, with its clashing crowd energies—Tsitsipas will have the Greeks, Djokovic will have the Serbs—should be a fun one.

What are you looking forward to seeing on Sunday, Joel?


Sunday’s final is a potential rite of passage for Tsitsipas—and business as usual for Djokovic.


I’ve always wondered how Djokovic would fare versus an imposing, skilled net-rusher like his idol, Pete Sampras. Kyrgios did this reasonably well for a while during last year’s Wimbledon final. Now we have Tsitsipas, a contemporary version of an all-court, attacking player.

Though I’m not saying Tsitsipas needs to charge the net with the frequency of a Patrick Rafter or Stefan Edberg, I do think that this is the area where he’s most likely to pose challenging questions.

Let’s see how Djokovic answers when pressed this way. Can he come up with one passing shot after another? Might the threat of Tsitsipas sprinting forward compel Djokovic to try for more during baseline rallies? Or will Djokovic, at least occasionally, get to the net before Tsitsipas? How will those kind of rallies affect the passions of the crowd—and in turn, each player?

Djokovic has been in such a groove all tournament, his depth, power, and accuracy seemingly hypnotizing his opponents. Though four of the first five people Djokovic played are scarcely comfortable at the net (Grigor Dimitrov is the exception), it was surprising in the semis to see someone as versatile as Tommy Paul hardly move forward. I’m wondering if the entire occasion—a first Slam semi, against an incredibly formidable opponent—got to Paul and compelled him to lose track of that productive tactic.

As we’ve noted, Tsitsipas has plenty of experience in these situations, so his awareness of the court should be exemplary. In the semis, Tsitsipas came to net 41 times. My belief is that to compete effectively versus Djokovic, he needs to exceed 50 or even 60. Even losing a point in that area is a way of applying pressure; call it partial credit. Again, Tsitsipas needn’t be reckless. Certainly, he can hang in many baseline rallies and win his share. But as the world has seen for well over a decade, a baseline-based game is hardly the one you want to play versus Djokovic.

Steve, what do you expect to see from Djokovic? And given that this match will determine who’ll be No. 1 in the world, what kind of storylines might it set up as 2023 unfolds?



Tsitsipas’ ability to rush the net is what elevates him above many of his baseline-bound opponents. Can it elevate him above Djokovic, or at least give him a fighting chance?

In theory, pushing forward, shortening points, and applying pressure would seem to be Tsitsipas’ best bet, and maybe his only hope. But he also doesn’t have to stray too far from his normal serve-forehand attack. Holger Rune beat Djokovic last fall with strong all-court play, and Sebastian Korda nearly beat him in Adelaide by controlling the rallies with his forehand. At his best, Tsitsipas can do the same, without having to fly to the net recklessly. His serve, of course, will be paramount; it has been a difference-maker for him in Melbourne, especially in his five-set win over Jannik Sinner.

Still, I’ll take Djokovic. The numbers I cited above—his 9-0 record in Australian Open finals, and his nine straight wins over Tsitsipas—are too clear and one-sided to bet against. I could see a match resembling the 2020 final. That day, Dominic Thiem threw his best at Djokovic for five sets, but Djokovic simply refused to capitulate, coming back from two sets to one down to win. Whatever his opponent does, however brilliantly he plays, Djokovic finds a way in Rod Laver Arena.

You ask about the rest of the men’s season. It may be that Djokovic’s part in that story will be paused after this weekend. It’s not clear, with his vaccination status, if he can play in Indian Wells and Miami. That should leave an opening for the ATP’s other protagonist, Carlos Alcaraz, to take the stage and try to re-stake his claim to No. 1, provided he’s healthy by then.

As far as the Grand Slams go, though, it feels like we’re heading toward yet another showdown between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in Paris. The more things seem to change in men’s tennis, the more they stay exactly the same. I, for one, am not complaining.