Damien Kayat previews the 2023 Men’s Australian Open Semi-final matches as Stefanos Tsitsipas takes on Karen Khachanov and Novak Djokovic faces Tommy Paul.
2023 ATP Tour
Grand Slam Tennis
Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia (Outdoor Hardcourt)
Stefanos Tsitsipas (39/100) | Karen Khachanov (39/20)
Could this be the year that Tsitsipas finally fulfills his Grand Slam potential? The Greek star made light work of the unseeded Jiri Lehecka, taking him down in straight sets to reach his 4th Aussie Open semi-final in five years.
His post-match press conference was an absolute riot. He left Jim Courier somewhat speechless when he extended a cheeky invitation to Margot Robbie to come watch him play. I actually liked that. Many of the modern-day tennis players tend to come off rather robotically.
The Aussie is actually the highest seed remaining in the draw (though obviously Djokovic is the nominal favourite). Tsitsipas has looked exceedingly comfortable this year (barring a major scare against Jannik Sinner). He has won a whopping 80% of his first-serve points (when you delete the Sinner statistics).
I still worry about Tsitsipas’ backhand when it comes under massive pressure. Sinner exposed the weaknesses on that side, and he should fully expect a barrage of inside-out forehands from Karen Khachanov.
Karen Khachanov has been causing a bit of a stir during his brilliant run in Melbourne. The Russian-Armenian has publicly voiced his support for the people of Artsakh (an Armenian enclave seeking impendence in Azerbaijan).
At least his performance hasn’t been affected by any political agenda. Khachanov really felt like he was going to become one of the forgotten men of world tennis. He actually hasn’t won a title since his breakthrough victory at the 2018 Paris Masters.
But he seems to have reinvented himself in the wake of winning the Olympic Silver Medal in 2021. He reached his maiden Grand Slam semi-final at last year’s US Open
(taking down Pablo Carreno Busta and Nick Kyrgios in the process).
He wins more cheap points on serve and seems to have found increased power on both wings. That was clearly evident in his impressive 3rd round victory against fellow US Open semi-finalist Frances Tiafoe. Seb Korda- his quarterfinal opponent- was forced to withdraw from their quarterfinal match due to a wrist injury. This should leave the Russian powerhouse raring to go for this encounter.
Verdict: Khachanov to win in five at 7/1
The Greek has absolutely dominated the Russian in their head-to-head rivalry, winning all five of their previous matches. However, the Russian did push Tsitsipas to three sets during their last meeting in Rome last year.
I really think that Khachanov has a fighter’s chance here. He showed against Kyrgios in the US Open that he can absorb big-serving. And I think his explosive forehand is going to relentlessly target Tsitsipas’ somewhat vulnerable backhand wing.
Novak Djokovic (1/25) | Tommy Paul (9/1)
I don’t like getting caught up in conspiracy theories. But maybe there is some truth to the accusations of gamesmanship that have been levelled against Djokovic this year.
His last two wins have been merciless straight-sets victories that left little evidence of any hamstring difficulty. Perhaps it is all part of some private troll after he was booted out of last year’s tournament. In any event, Djokovic is just looking stronger and stronger with each passing match.
His absolutely humiliating defeat of Andrey Rublev took his Aussie Open record to 26 consecutive victories (equaling former coach Andre Agassi’s record). It also extended his unbeaten streak in Australia to 39 matches. It further increased his current unbeaten streak to 15. He fired 32 winners to 21 unforced errors against Rublev.
It seems certain that the Serb is going to match Rafa’s all-time record of 22 Slams this week. Is there anything that American Tommy Paul can go to stop the inevitable?
Tommy Paul can take some comfort going into this match. Win or (most likely) lose, Paul will break into the top 20 of the ATP Rankings for the first time in his career.
Remember, Tommy Paul had never progressed beyond the 4th round of a Slam before this. In terms of plundering uncharted territory, this is right up there with Frodo reaching Mordor.
He has certainly enjoyed an interesting fortnight in Melbourne. He showed real character to come back against Davidovich Fokina in the 2nd round. He then picked up another gritty Spanish scalp with victory over Roberto Bautista Agut in the final 16.
And he has just withstood an absolute serving barrage from compatriot Ben Shelton. But he will need a minor miracle to progress. Victory over Djokovic (in his current vein of form) will constitute one of the biggest surprises in Grand Slam history.
Verdict: Djokovic to win in four at 24/10
This will be the first career meeting between these two. This could give some confidence to severe underdog Paul. My theory is that Djokovic may use this as a glorified practice session (safe in the knowledge that he could take the American apart at any moment).
This could offer Paul the chance to nick a set. And I honestly don’t see any other way of extracting value from this.