Djokovic targets 'biggest peaks' - Australian Open title and return to No 1

Serbian favourite to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday

Serbia's Novak Djokovic, right, and Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas play in the Australian Open men's singles final on Sunday. AFP
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Novak Djokovic will be the clear favourite as he bids to equal Rafael Nadal's Grand Slam record and return to world No 1 in the Australian Open final on Sunday.

A year after being deported from Australia on the eve of the major for his stance against Covid-19 vaccine, Djokovic has battled a hamstring strain, heckling spectators and a media storm over his father mixing with fans toting banned Russian flags at the tennis.

Despite the distraction, Djokovic has remained focused.

The Serb's dominant semi-final victory over American Tommy Paul on Friday stretched his winning streak at the event to a record 27 in the professional era, eclipsing Andre Agassi's 26-match run between 2000 to 2004.

Never beaten at Melbourne Park after reaching the semis, fourth seed Djokovic is the favourite to triumph against Stefanos Tsitsipas under the floodlights at Rod Laver Arena and claim a record-extending 10th Australian Open title.

While Djokovic is into a record 33rd Grand Slam final and bidding to equal Nadal's 22 major crowns, the Greek third seed will play only his second.

Adding spice to the showdown, the winner will become world No 1, dethroning Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz.

That is added incentive for Djokovic, who last held the top ranking in June.

"Winning Grand Slams and being the No 1 in the world are probably the two biggest peaks that you can climb as a professional tennis player," the 35-year-old said.

For Djokovic, it matters to be the best and he has a strong sense of his historical place in tennis. But he said navigating the highs and lows is "a great school of life".

"I play professional tennis for several different reasons," he said in Melbourne.

"Some personal reason is that I feel on the tennis court I always have an opportunity to learn something new about myself, I guess fight with my own demons that I guess we all have.

"When we're on the tennis court in the midst of a battle, some of the things surface, and I have to deal with it, so it's a great school of life for me.

"Then at the same time, of course, I have professional goals and ambitions," he added. "Those are Grand Slams and being No 1 in the world.

"So I do want to make more history in this sport, no doubt."

At 24, Tsitsipas may feel his time has come. He buried his semi-final hoodoo at Melbourne Park against Russian bruiser Karen Khachanov in four sets on Friday after falling three times previously at the hurdle.

"These are the moments I've been working hard for," said Tsitsipas.

"To be able to play in finals that have a bigger meaning than just the final."

Updated: January 28, 2023, 11:13 AM