Stefanos Tsitsipas (pictured) of Greece will face Serbian Novak Djokovic in the 2023 Australian Open men’s singles final at 3:30 a.m. EST Sunday on ESPN. Photo by Fazry Ismail/EPA-EFE
Jan. 27 (UPI) — Novak Djokovic will play for a record-tying 22nd Grand Slam, while Stefanos Tsitsipas tries to win his first major title this weekend at the Australian Open. Aryna Sabalenka will meet Elena Rybakina in the women’s final. The Sabalenka-Rybakina match will air at 3:30 a.m. EST Saturday on ESPN and ESPN+. The Djokovic-Tsitsipas match will air at the same time Sunday on the same platforms. Encore presentations of the finals will air at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday on ESPN2.
Jan. 27 (UPI) — Novak Djokovic will play for a record-tying 22nd Grand Slam, while Stefanos Tsitsipas tries to win his first major title this weekend at the Australian Open. Aryna Sabalenka will meet Elena Rybakina in the women’s final.
The Sabalenka-Rybakina match will air at 3:30 a.m. EST Saturday on ESPN and ESPN+. The Djokovic-Tsitsipas match will air at the same time Sunday on the same platforms. Encore presentations of the finals will air at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday on ESPN2.
Each champion will collect $2.1 million in prize money. The runners-up will take home $1.1 million apiece.
“I’m very satisfied and pleased to be in another Grand Slam final,” Djokovic told reporters Friday. “This is what I imagined and hoped would happen when I came to Australia.”
With a win, Djokovic can tie Spaniard Rafael Nadal for the most Grand Slams in men’s tennis history. He already owns a record nine Australian Open crowns. Tsitsipas is searching for his first major title.
“I think the experience of being in this particular situation and circumstances before helps,” Djokovic said. “I also think the fact that I’ve never lost an Australian Open final definitely serves as a great confidence booster prior to Sunday, but of course the job still needs to be done on the court.”
On the women’s side, Rybakina and Sabalenka each will compete for their first Australian Open title. Sabalenka also will make her first appearance in a Grand Slam singles final. Rybakina won the Wimbledon 2022 singles title in July.
“I’m not going to do anything extra,” Sabalenka told reporters. “It’s OK to feel a little bit nervous. It’s a big tournament and a big final, if you try to do something about that it will become bigger. She is playing great tennis. I just have to be there, work for it and put her under pressure.”
Rybakina vs. Sabalenka
The women’s final will feature a matchup between similar players. Rybakina, 23, and Sabalenka, 24, are known for their strong serves and moderate mobility.
Rybakina, of Kazakhstan, uses a more compact serve to attack foes. The No. 5 seed is among the WTA Tour ace leaders each year. She dropped just one set through her first six matches in Melbourne.
Rybakina beat No. 1 Iga Swiatek of Poland, No. 13 Danielle Collins of the United States, No. 17 Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, No. 24 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, Slovenian Kaja Juvan and Italian Elisabetta Cocciaretto en route to the final. She totaled a tournament-high 45 aces and converted the second-most break points (26) in those matches.
“It was a great experience for me because they had experience of winning Grand Slams,” Rybakina told reporters Thursday. “They were very experienced players and I knew i had to focus on every opponent.”
Sabalenka’s power is much more evident in her matches due to her elongated delivery, which she can use to intimidate opponents. The No. 5 seed recently cited improved movement and touch as differences in her game, compared to last season.
Sabalenka, one of the hardest hitters on the tour, hits a fantastic down-the-line backhand and often uses intense topspin on her forehand. Like Rybakina, she doesn’t often approach the net during her matches.
The Belarusian did not drop a set through her first six matches. She beat No. 12 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, No. 26 Elise Mertens of Belgium, Shelby Rogers of the United States, Magda Linette of Poland, Donna Vekic of Croatia and Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic en route to the final.
Sabalenka, who is 3-0 in career matches against Rybakina, is the favorite to win Sunday at Rod Laver Arena. She beat Rybakina in three sets in their last match in the fourth round of Wimbledon 2021.
Djokovic vs. Tsitsipas
Djokovic, 35, is heavily favored to beat Tsitsipas, 24, in the men’s final. The Serbian, who did not participate in the 2022 Australian Open due to his unvaccinated status, won the tournament in each of his last three appearances.
Djokovic dropped just one of his 19 sets through six matches at the 2023 Australian Open.
“It’s the final stages of a Grand Slam,” Djokovic said. “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 opportunties I’ll have. Of course I feel it. I feel pressure and I feel stress as any other player. I feel nerves and excitement. There are a lot of different emotions that I’m going through.”
Djokovic beat No. 5 Andrey Rublev of Russia, No. 22 Alex de Minaur of Australia, No. 27 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena, Enzo Couacaud of France and American Tommy Paul en route to the final.
He also won a tournament-high 35 break points and 124 second serve return points. That latter stat could be an issue for Tsitsipas, who is known to lose power on his second serve. Djokovic, one of the most balanced players in the history of tennis, doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses in his game.
He achieved his excellence with aggressive serves, pristine backhands and superior flexibility, footwork and speed. Djokovic’s mental strength and experience are other factors that could play into this matchup.
Tsitsipas isn’t an overpowering player, but could find success by leaning on his expansive court usage and eagerness to play close to the net. The No. 3 seed from Greece uses an array of shot techniques to keep opponents off balance and change the pace of play.
“I’m playing great tennis and I’m enjoying myself,” Tsitsipas told reporters Friday. “I see no downside or negativity in what I’m trying to do out there. I’m very optimistic and positive about any outcome and any opponent I have to face.
“This is something that has been sort of lacking in my game. I genuinely believe in what I am able to produce. That is more than enough.”
The heavy underdog could make things interesting if he provides winners with his finesse backhand and forehand returns. His backhand slice also could factor into the match, if it extends past three sets and the players tire. Tsitsipas also could rise to the No. 1 spot in the WTA rankings with a victory.
He also would become the first Greek Grand Slam winner.
Tsitsipas’ increased experience in recent years, including matches against Djokovic, could aid his effort this weekend. He led the ATP in games played and ranked second in sets won in 2022.
Djokovic is 10-2 in a dozen career meetings with Tsitsipas and carries a nine-match winning streak into their latest tussle. He beat Tsitsipas four times in 2022. Djokovic also beat Tsitsipas twice in Grand Slams; the 2021 French Open final and 2020 French Open semifinals.
“He is in great shape and great form and has been playing some of his best tennis,” Djokovic said of Tsitsipas. “I’m sure he is going to be very motivated to win his first Grand Slam title.
“I know his game pretty well. He knows my game well. We played several times on different surfaces and in one Grand Slam final. I know what is ahead of me and I’m excited.”