Jan 28, 2023

2023 Australian Open ATP Finals

Stefanos Tsitsipas vs Novak Djokovic :

5:53AM. Djokovic awakens. Spiritually, of course. He’s been physically awake since 4AM visualizing breakfast. He’s eating that breakfast now, a single octopus egg and several bites of air. The next step is more visualizing, this time visualizing himself visualizing himself. “You’re just looking in the mirror,” says Goran. “Fool,” says tiny evil Novak, who lives on Novak’s shoulder, but Goran just ignores him. “You should zip him,” says tiny evil Novak, “you should zip them all.” “He’s right,” agrees tiny good Novak, who lives in his warmup jacket pocket. “Also why does my home look like the bottom of a pool?”

5:53AM. Tsitsipas and his dad are in hour 4 of arm wrestling. “GO AGAIN LEFTY!” insists Apostolos, as he scrambles around his chair several times, trying to figure out how to get his left arm in front. Stefanos laughs. “The chair is on wheels fool, you only have to rotate it once”. Surrounded by fools as usual. He turns his attention back to a nearby parrot, to which he throws a Tsitsipas shaped cookie. “A sonnet of blueberries”, squawks the parrot, who is being paid to think of interesting phrases for Tsitsipas to write on the camera. “You’ve done it again, Globius” says Stefanos, “If only your tweets were this good”.

Djokovic is about to win his 10th Australian Open title. The expectations at the start of the tournament were about the same as they are now. In classic Novak style, he gets us there with a roller coaster of almost-drama. His injury remains a mystery, like who built the pyramids or where do tacos come from. There will probably be some time off to rehab/repair the hamstring issue, but that fits in pretty well for RG and he’s moving good enough in his last few matches that it’s a non-issue. He just made Tommy Paul look like his shots were slow, and the big serving American pro had to play a second shot almost nonstop in this clash. There was a very odd comeback from 5-1 to 5-5 in the first, but Djokovic rolled from there. He seemed a bit upset early in the second and made some hand gestures that indicated his energy levels had dipped, but while filing these complaints he cruised to a 3-0 lead. Even the announcers got on board with the idea and after some errors in longer rallies Tommy Paul fans had some hope. The scoreboard told another story though, one it has quite often this week. Paul lost the set 6-1 and did well in some respects to win two games in the third.

Bottom line, it is really difficult to win a game against Novak Djokovic right now. He’s just playing at a pace opponents aren’t able to or aren’t used to, and he’s playing aggressively enough on his forehand that you can’t just hit a slice or infuse a little height to grab a breath. Tsitsipas will have to dig in and play through some very perfect patches from Djokovic to have a shot here, and I’m not sure his backhand will hold up in the end. It’s a very short list of players who are able to trade constantly and be consistent and offensively creative. It’s the one feature of Jannik Sinner’s great stretches that I like, he doesn’t run out of ideas and he doesn’t play like he wants the rally to be over. Djokovic has looked rough on isolated points and for short stretches he’s seemed emotionally agitated, but these things haven’t really affected the scorelines a great deal, so Tsitsipas should go in expecting to have to earn it.

Tsitsipas has half the formula to be able to deal with Novak Djokovic right now. He’s serving big enough to actually get free points, and he’s hitting his forehand fast enough through the court that Djokovic will actually be on the defensive for a bit of the time. Djokovic was able to deal with everything Tommy Paul hit at him and was the heavier hitter in most rallies, but Tsitsipas can actually score on Djokovic when he ropes a forehand. The one thing great champions can’t do is run faster than the ball, so Tsitsipas’ ability to generate cross-court winners on the run towards his forehand wing will have Djokovic thinking twice about going inside in. This would be important because the book on Tsitsipas is simple. Avoid his forehand, pepper his backhand. If he can camp more in that corner, it’s less footwork and better backhand quality. If he’s on the move when he’s hitting the quality and the depth will suffer, and Djokovic is too accurate right now to give him time during a rally.

Stefanos does have some other things going for him. He has some crowd support already, and his surfing of Australia’s wikipedia has garnered him a few more. It isn’t enough to fold Djokovic up, but the crowd is quick to get behind an obvious underdog, and I think Tsitsipas will get to that status. He also has some experience playing Novak. This is the hardest match of Djokovic’s Australian Open campaign, and it’s against the guy who has played him the most in the whole tournament. 10-3 is the official record (Djokovic’s favor), and while that’s tough to overlook, a lot of the matches have had respectable scorelines. Given Tsitsipas’ serving, this one should also.

The problem is, at some point Djokovic starts returning those serves. Everyone has tells and patterns and Djokovic is extremely smooth with his reactions and adjustments. The result is not power but depth. Djokovic’s one goal is to put that ball right at a player’s feet. It doesn’t guarantee a point but it guarantees you get a racquet on the next ball and Novak has been backing himself to outrally players for the last 20 years. Earlier today my Youtube finished the Tommy Paul press conference and went into AO 2012 highlights and it’s Novak Djokovic playing. It is unreal how good the tennis produced by the big 4 has been, and Djokovic is still producing it. He seems to be getting smarter about the game and his serving has improved with age. Tsitsipas is the best candidate to stop him, but it’s hard to see anyone beating Djokovic in his current form, and this is a title he’s been thinking about for quite some time now. Novak is also currently the best server on tour, and is playing in a situation he has never lost in. Should be an entertaining clash, but Tsitsipas will need to play the match of his career to win, and my inner hater just can’t handle that.

Djokovic in 4.