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Semifinal Previews: Do Tommy Paul and Karen Khachanov stand a chance against Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas?
The Greek is 5-0 against the Russian, and he hasn’t dropped a set to him on outdoor hard courts. The American faces a nine-time champion Down Under.
Published Jan 26, 2023
WATCH: Tsitsipas nearly hits ball boy during Aussie Open quarterfinal win
Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. Karen Khachanov
Sometimes a head-to-head record won’t tell you much about an upcoming match; other times it seems to virtually guarantee a certain result. The H2H between Tsitsipas and Khachanov would seem to be an example of the latter. The Greek is 5-0 against the Russian, and he hasn’t dropped a set to him on outdoor hard courts.
The one-sidedness of those numbers is only slightly surprising. Tsitsipas has been ranked higher than Khachanov for at least three years, and he has been the superior performer at the Grand Slams. What he gives away in weight of shot to Khachanov, he more than makes up for with his speed, court coverage, and variety of attack. This will also be Tsitsipas’ third Australian Open semifinal; he’ll be playing in front of what he describes as his home crowd; and he says he’s playing as well as he ever has.
“I’m feeling great with my tennis. I don’t think I felt so good in a long time,” Tsitsipas said. “I’m a different player, playing different. My mentality is different. When I’m out on the court, I don’t really think of negatives, to be honest. I just go out there and play the game.”
Still, there are a few reasons to believe Khachanov has a chance. One, he clearly feels comfortable going against the grain of a crowd. Nick Kyrgios had the fans on his side when he played the Russian at the US Open, and Frances Tiafoe had them Down Under, but Khachanov found his way to victory, in clutch fashion, both times. He also has a powerful serve and a heavy topspin forehand, and his two-handed backhand is a weapon rather than a weak spot—he’s built for the five-set haul.
Finally, Khachanov also knows what to expect in a major semifinal, having lost one to Casper Ruud at the US Open last September. He says he’ll be in “physically better shape” this time around.
Fending off the crowd to beat Kyrgios and Tiafoe was impressive. But Tsitsipas, in his current form, will be an even tougher ask. It feel like it’s time for the Greek to take the next step in Melbourne. Winner: Tsitsipas
Novak Djokovic vs. Tommy Paul
For the second time in three matches, Djokovic will meet a quality young opponent for the first time. In the fourth round, he had no problem figuring out Alex de Minaur in time to cruise to a surprisingly easy straight-set win. Will he be that quick on the uptake against Paul?
“I know how he plays,” Djokovic says. “I never faced him on the court. I watched him play quite a bit, especially during this tournament. He’s been playing probably tennis of his life.”
Djokovic does seem to have done his homework on the American.
“Very explosive, very dynamic player,” he says of Paul. “Quick, very solid backhand. Likes to step in, dictate the point with the forehand. Great, great service motion. I think he can hit all the spots with the serve. Very complete player.
“First semifinals for him, so of course he doesn’t have much to lose. I’m sure he’s going to go out trying to play his best tennis.”
It’s hard to argue with that assessment. Paul’s strength is his mix of foot speed and dynamic, on-the-run-shotmaking. His weakness, as Djokovic implies, is that he’ll be making his debut on the Slam semifinal stage. He may have “nothing to lose” to start, but it won’t help that he’ll also be facing Djokovic for the first time. That’s a double-whammy of the unfamiliar and the nerve-wracking. And while Paul is playing the “tennis of his life” Down Under, so far he hasn’t had to play it against anyone seeded higher than 24th.
Paul will make some spectacular gets and shots. Can he make enough to spark the crowd, and put even the smallest seed of doubt in Djokovic’s mind? I’d say yes on both counts. But it doesn’t mean he’ll win three sets, or even one. Winner: Djokovic