Novak Djokovic To Play For Record-Tying 22nd Major Title At Australian Open As Controversy Swirls Around His Father

Was there ever really any doubt?

Novak Djokovic will play for his 10th Australian Open title, a record-tying 22nd Grand Slam championship and the world No. 1 ranking after defeating American Tommy Paul, 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals on Friday for his 27th straight victory at the tournament.

Despite a nagging left hamstring issue and controversy swirling around his father, No. 4 Djokovic remained unbeaten (10-0) in Australian Open semifinals and will play for his fourth straight title in Melbourne on Sunday against No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who earlier knocked out No. 18 Karen Khachanov, 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3. Tsitsipas, the 24-year-old Greek star, is still seeking his first major title.

With a win Sunday, Djokovic, 35, would tie his rival Rafael Nadal with 22 major titles. Nadal, the defending champion, was upset in the second round by American Mackie McDonald in a tournament that has seen the American men make great strides.

Djokovic leads Tsitsipas 10-2, but the Greek has a 2-1 advantage on outdoor hard courts. The winner of the final will become world No. 1.

“Stefanos, see you in two days,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview with Jim Courier.

He added: “Winning Grand Slams and being the world No. 1 is probably the two biggest peaks that you can climb as a professional tennis player…so let’s see what happens.”

Djokovic most recently won three straight Australian Open titles from 2019-21, but was deported from the country on the eve of the tournament a year ago because he was not vaccinated against Covid-19.

Djokovic’s victory over Paul — a South Jersey native who was playing in his first major semifinal at 25 — came without his father, Srdjan, in his customary seat in the player box after he posed with pro-Putin demonstrators earlier in the week. Djokovic’s mother, Dijana, and brother, Djordje, were in his box, while there was an empty seat where his father had been sitting.

The tournament has been thrown into scandal after police detained four men outside Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday night following Djokovic’s quarterfinal win over Russian Andrey Rublev.

Spectators inside Melbourne Park were seen with pro-war signs and flags featuring the face of Putin as they chanted outside the stadium.

A video posted on YouTube appears to show Djokovic’s dad posing with a group of men who were also seen waving the Russian flags which have been banned from the Australian Open.

In a video posted on the YouTube channel Aussie Cossack, the father of the nine-time Australian Open champion was seen alongside a man who was wearing a T-shirt that prominently featured the pro-war ‘Z’ symbol.

The video also shows that the group of Russian activists was able to stage its demonstration for an extended period of time before security intervened.

Tennis Australia earlier confirmed four spectators were detained by police and were further questioned. A statement from Victoria Police has confirmed all four men were evicted from the event.

In a statement released on Friday, Djokovic’s father said: “I am here to support my son only. I had no intention of causing such headlines or disruption.

“I was outside with Novak’s fans as I have done after all of my son’s matches to celebrate his wins and take pictures with them. I had no intention of being caught up in this.

“My family has lived through the horror of war, and we wish only for peace.

“So there is no disruption to tonight’s semi-final for my son or for the other player, I have chosen to watch from home.

“I wish for a great match and will be cheering for my son, as always.”

The statement also said Novak did not wish to make any comments.

As for the match, Djokovic led the first set 5-1 before Paul reeled four straight games to knot it at 5-all. But the match turned with Paul serving at 5-6, 30-0 when he failed to hold. When the American hit an inside-out forehand long on set point, Djokovic heard a mix of cheers and boos from the fans.

After committing 24 errors in the first set, Djokovic got an early break in the second set for 2-0 and, despite bending over and appearing to hit the wall physically in the next game, held to consolidate for 3-0.

Djokovic cruised through the second and third sets, finally winning it on his serve at love. He saved 7-of-9 break points.

“We both had heavy legs I think in the first set, but I was really fortunate to h0ld my nerves towards the end of the first set,” Djokovic said. “After that I started swing through the ball more, so I’m just really pleased to get through (to) another final.”

For Paul, it was a tremendous run that propelled him into the Top 20 in the world, along with fellow Americans Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe.

The Djokovic-Tsitsipas matchup will be a rematch of the 2021 Roland Garros final, won by Djokovic in five sets when he came from 0-2 down.

“Well, I won that match so my recollections are very positive,” Djokovic said. “I was two-sets-to-love down and I think it was the first time that I came back from two-sets-to-love down in a Grand Slam final…It was a really physical, mental, emotional battle, so it always is with Stefanos.

“I respect him a lot. He has improved a lot over the years. I actually think he’s one of the most interesting guys on the tour with his interests off the court and his hairstyle and all.

“But it’s all business on Sunday for both of us. Let the better player win.”

Tsitsipas will try to stop Djokovic from making more history while he seeks his first major title.

“These are the moments I’ve been working hard for,” Tsitsipas said in his on-court interview. “To be able to play finals like this, but finals that have bigger meaning that just a final. It’s a Grand Slam final, I’m fighting for the No. 1 spot. It’s a childhood dream to be capturing the No. 1 spot one day. I’m close. I’m happy that this opportunity comes here in Australia and not somewhere else, because this is a place of significance.

“Let’s do it guys!” he continued, addressing the Rod Laver Arena crowd that has helped fuel his run. “Let’s go!”