Jue. Feb 29th, 2024

MELBOURNE, Australia — And then there were four. Novak Djokovic, Jannik Sinner, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev: the men remaining in contention for singles glory at the 2024 Australian Open (watch tonight on ESPN/ESPN+ starting at 10:30 p.m. ET)

History suggests world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who has won this title a record 10 times, is the player to beat. But Sinner, Medvedev and Zverev have each made compelling cases this fortnight that they can end Djokovic’s reign at Melbourne Park.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Jannik Sinner (4)

There are endless reasons to suggest Djokovic’s astounding success at the Australian Open will continue Friday when he battles Sinner for a place in yet another final.

We all know he’s won this event more than anyone else, including the past four titles he’s contested. But he’s also a staggering 20-0 in semifinal and finals matches at the tournament. Every time he’s managed to pass the quarterfinal stage, he’s won the title. The last time Djokovic lost at Rod Laver Arena, to Hyeon Chung in 2018, a 16-year-old Sinner was battling away on the junior circuit.

Djokovic’s record in his past 100 tour matches, dating to mid-2022, doesn’t seem real. He’s won 90 of them and lost just 10, including a mind-boggling 39-1 record at the Grand Slams. In that span, just one player boasts multiple wins over him — and that’s Sinner.

You don’t have to rewind too far, either. The world No. 4 beat Djokovic in mid-November in the round-robin stage at the ATP Finals before repeating the feat later that month in a Davis Cup tie. Djokovic still leads the head-to-head 4-2 — one of his wins being the decider of the ATP Finals, sandwiching those aforementioned meetings — but Sinner’s recent success should provide him an enormous amount of confidence heading into this semifinal.

Sinner might well be in the best form of any player of the tournament, having won 15 of 15 sets en route to the last four. In fact, you need to track back to that Davis Cup meeting against Djokovic to find the last set of tennis Sinner lost. Djokovic, on the other hand, battled in the early rounds at Melbourne Park, particularly against Dino Prizmic and Alexei Popyrin. But as the tournament has progressed, he has returned to his dominant ways, something Adrian Mannarino can attest to after a near triple-bageling in the fourth round.

Perhaps the most intriguing storyline surrounding this semifinal has been the rest factor. Djokovic has been on court almost four hours longer than Sinner through five matches, but the scheduling on Day 10 meant Sinner did not complete his quarterfinal against Andrey Rublev until well after 1 a.m. local time. Djokovic played that afternoon and will enjoy an extra seven hours of rest. How much of an advantage, if at all, will that prove to be?

«This is what I practice for, to play against the best players in the world,» Sinner said after he confirmed the date with Djokovic. «It’s going to be tough. This, I know. I will control the controllable, which is giving 100%, having the right attitude, fighting for every ball. And then we see the outcome, no? More than this we cannot do.»

Who wins?

There’s a very real chance Djokovic’s 33-match unbeaten run at the tournament comes to an end Friday. Sinner is fresher, confident and arguably playing better tennis than anyone on the planet. Yet you just cannot bet against Djokovic in Melbourne. It will be the match of the tournament, and likely last more than four hours, but Djokovic will prevail in five sets.

Daniil Medvedev (3) vs. Alexander Zverev (6)

In a tournament that has been full of breathtaking performances and upsets, nothing may check both boxes quite like Zverev’s quarterfinal win over world No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz.

Zverev entered the match 0-10 in his Slam career against top-five ranked opponents and was predicted to have little to no chance of halting Alcaraz’s progress in Melbourne. However, the combination of unheard-of first-serve accuracy, immaculate, brave ballstriking and some questionable Alcaraz tactics saw him establish a two-sets-to-love lead in seemingly the blink of an eye.

Alcaraz battled back gallantly to snatch the third set (and the momentum) in a tiebreak, but then came the Zverev rally — perhaps the most impressive aspect of all — to clinch the contest in four sets.

It’s a remarkable result for Zverev, who is still very much on the comeback trail. The German was forced to miss the back half of the 2022 season after suffering a nasty ankle injury at the French Open. He returned in Australia last year and has been slowly rebuilding his confidence and form. A semifinal date with Medvedev, the two-time Australian Open finalist, now awaits.

Medvedev has also been in somewhat of a reestablishment phase. The lean patch that followed his dramatic loss to Rafael Nadal at the 2022 Australian Open is now firmly in the rearview mirror. Last year, he enjoyed a run of 34 wins from 37 matches, including titles in Rotterdam, Doha, Dubai and Miami, to vault back into the world’s top three. Now, for the first time in his career, he’s managed to string together three consecutive major semifinal berths.

Friday’s semifinal will be the first meeting between Medvedev and Zverev at a major. Medvedev enjoys the 11-7 career edge in the pair’s head-to-head, including wins in six of their past seven encounters. However, Zverev believes Medvedev’s recent success may be a tad misleading.

«A lot of matches were extremely close,» Zverev said. «A lot of the time it came down to him being extremely confident last year. Him playing some of the best tennis of his life and me coming back from injury and not having the confidence in the deciding moments. Not being able to finish matches.»

Both Medvedev and Zverev have had it tough this tournament. They’ve each been on court for more than 16 hours and have played and won two five-set matches, two four-set matches and the lone three-setter. That’s 21 sets of tennis each to reach the semifinals.

Who wins?

Both players look to be running on fumes (and just a little adrenalin). Zverev is correct in suggesting he’s not the same player who lost time and time again to Medvedev in 2023, but Medvedev has the experience from his finals before, not to mention his 2021 US Open title. Medvedev to win in four sets.


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