Australian Open: Sinner Surprises Djokovic, Moves Into First Major Final

Novak Djokovic and Jannik Sinner (photo: Tennis Australia/Hamish Blair)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 26, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

For the first time since 2005, there will be no Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic playing for the Australian Open men’s singles title.

Mostly, the show will go on in Melbourne Sunday night on Rod Laver without Federer (retired) or Nadal (injured) — or the World No. 1 Djokovic, the 10-time AO champion from Serbia, who was stunned by fourth seed by Jannik Sinner of Italy, 14 years his junior, in Friday’s first semifinal match, 6-1, 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-3.

The improbable victory advanced the mentally-tough and physically-fit Italian into his first Grand Slam title match against Daniil Medvedev, who fought his way to a remarkable 5-7, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-3 comeback win over Alexander Zverev. It will be Medvedev’s sixth major final appearance and third at the Australian Open.

While Djokovic erased a match point in the third-set tie-break, ultimately, he was unable to garner any momentum from it. He committed an uncharacteristic 54 unforced errors and did not generate any break-point opportunities off of Sinner’s serve. To Sinner’s credit, he fired nine aces, hit 31 overall winners and converted five of 11 break points. He outpointed Djokovic 128-98.

Added up, it was that kind of unlucky day for the 24-time Grand Slam champion, who last lost a match in Melbourne six years ago. It snapped a 33-match winning streak for the Serbian great going all the way back to the fourth round of 2018 against South Korea’s Hyeong Chung.

“It was a very, very tough match. I started off really well,” Sinner said in his on-court interview with Hall of Famer Jim Courier. “For two sets, I felt like he was not feeling that great on court so I just tried to keep pushing. Then in the third set I had match point and I missed the forehand, but this is tennis.

“I just tried to be ready also for the next set, which I started off really well. And obviously the atmosphere was so great to play here.”

Later, in his news conference, Sinner added: “When I play against him, it’s obvious you know right before that it’s a tough match. But Grand Slam is different. It was a tough match, especially when I lost the third set with match points. I just tried to stay as positive as possible, and it went my way today. I’m really happy.”

After beating Djokovic in two of three meetings last November, at the Nitto ATP Finals and at the Davis Cup Finals, Sinner improved to 3-4 lifetime against Djokovic moved into his first major final with six consecutive victories — five of them in straight sets.

“For me was a huge privilege end of last year to play against him in ten days for three times, because obviously you can practice with him, but the match is always different,” Sinner said. “So I feel like this for sure helped me in one way, but in the other way, it’s as I said before, Grand Slam also mentally it’s different. I just tried to play also as relaxed as possible but also having the right game plan in my mind.

“I think today it worked really well.”

In his news conference after his semifinal loss against the 22-year-old Sinner, the 36-year-old Djokovic commented: “It’s not a feeling that I’m used to. I guess this is one of the worst Grand Slam matches I’ve ever played. At least that I remember.

“It’s not a very pleasant feeling playing this way. But at the same time, credit to him for doing everything better than me, in every aspect of the game.”

Djokovic’s loss dropped him to 20-1 in Australian Open semifinals and finals combined after going 10-0 in semifinals and 10-0 in finals. It made him 47-1 as a No. 1 seed. However, he will remain ranked No. 1 when the ATP Rankings are updated on Monday.

Meanwhile, the World No. 4 Sinner has now won 19 of his past 20 matches going back to October, though his streak of 17 consecutive sets won during this Australian fortnight was ended by Djokovic in the third set.

“The confidence from the end of last year has for sure kept the belief that I can play against the best players in the world,” Sinner said. “I’m really happy that I can play Sunday my first final. Let’s see how it goes. But I’m really happy, I’ll come here with a smile and I’ll try my best.”

Medvedev goes the distance to beat Zverev

World No. 3 and third seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia looked spent after the first two sets of the second semifinal against No. 6 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany. He was two points from losing in the fourth set, but somehow, some way, he found the willpower to beat Zverev, 5-7, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-3, in four hours and 18 minutes. It was their 19th career head-to-head clash but first in a Grand Slam. Medvedev now leads the series 12-7.

It’s also the fourth time in Medvedev’s career that he’s rallied from 0-2 down to win a five-setter.

“Before my statistics in five sets were not good and physically and mentally it is tough in five sets,” Medvedev said after the match. “I am happy. One month ago I wanted to change a little bit to be more strong mentally. … I am still far from perfect but I am trying.”

Here’s how Medvedev saw the semifinal from his side of the net: “First set honestly I think we both didn’t play that good,” Medvedev said. “The second set I thought I played a bit better than the first set. He played very well, 6-3, two breaks, I didn’t have chances on his serve.

“I was a little bit lost, but during the third set I started saying ‘If I lose this match, I just want to be proud of myself’.”

After all, this was coming from the man who lost two previous final in Melbourne, in 2021 to Novak Djokovic and in 2022 after being up two-sets-to-none to Rafael Nadal. Now, he’s the 13th man in the Open Era to reach three or more AO title matches.

On Sunday, it will be Medvedev, who won the 2021 US Open crown contending for his second major title in his sixth try against Jannik Sinner, who will be the youngest AO finalist since Djokovic won his first Melbourne titles in 2008 and the first Italian player in an Australian Open singles final. One thing’s certain: a first-time Australian Open champion will be crowned.

Around Melbourne Park

Ukraine’s Lyudmyla Kichenok and Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia reached their first major women’s doubles final after taking won two consecutive come-from-behind sets, 7-5, 7-5, against reigning US Open champions and current fourth seeds Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and New Zealand’s Erin Routliffe, in their semifinal meeting.

After going 0-2 in Grand Slam women’s doubles semifinals (both in 2022 at the French Open and Wimbledon), the No. 11 seeds Kichenok and Ostapenko prevailed in their third major attempt on Margaret Court Arena and wrapped up their victory in an hour and 35 minutes.

Each has won a prior Grand Slam title, Ostapenko in singles at the 2017 French Open and Kichenok in mixed doubles with Croatia’s Mate Pavic last year.

“It was a bit up-and-down today, we were just trying to keep fighting,” Kichenok said during a on-court interview after the match. “It wasn’t going the way we wanted today the whole time, but we managed somehow.”

Next, Kichenok and Ostapenko will face No. 2 seeds Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan and Elise Mertens of Belgium in Sunday’s final. Hsieh teamed with Jan Zielinski of Poland to win the mixed doubles title on Friday.

Friday’s Australian Open results

Saturday’s Australian Open order of play

By the numbers

Friday’s Day 13 of the Australian Open 2024 set records for both day session and total day/night combined attendance. A total of 36,940 came out during the day, which bettered the 2023 mark of 25,609. Coupled with a night session crowd of 19,823, Friday’s overall day/night combined attendance reached 56,763 fans, which broke last year’s figure of 49,111.

The cumulative attendance for Days 1-13 has reached 935,285 fans, a two-week record. The previous mark was 839,192 set in 2023.

“Quotable …”

“End of the second set I started to lose energy. I started to not feel, you know, so fresh anymore.

“I mean, I am a bit sick. I got a bit sick after the Alcaraz match with a bit of fever and stuff like that, so that obviously didn’t help the recovery, and I did play quite a lot.

“So, yeah, just loss of energy a little bit in the end of the second set, and against him, it’s impossible to play when you’re not 100 percent physically, because he’s literally someone that really doesn’t give you anything.

“[Daniil] makes you work for every single point, and once you kind of can’t really do that anymore, it becomes very difficult. Obviously I was very close in third and fourth set, but I wasn’t, you know, the same player as I was the first two sets anymore. I was kind of just hanging on.”

Alexander Zverev, during his post-match news conference, describing when he thought the match against Daniil Medvedev began to change and slip away.