MELBOURNE, Australia — After Novak Djokovic‘s fourth-round Australian Open demolition of Adrian Mannarinoon-court interviewer Jim Courier asked the world No. 1 to share some early thoughts on his next match.
“Stefanos and I played the final here last year. He’s been an established top-five, top-10 player for many years now. Very experienced with playing on a big stage. He’s got the complete game. Great player, no doubt,” Djokovic said. “On the other hand, you have Fritz. Let’s see.”
The superlatives were flowing freely for Tsitsipas and spared for Fritz. Was it simply a sign of confidence from the 24-time major champion? Probably.
An hour later, Fritz confirmed his place in the last eight after knocking out the Greek star in four sets.
“If I beat someone eight times in a row, I’d be pretty confident playing them, too. I can’t really fault [Djokovic] for that,” Fritz said. “It’s been one-sided with Novak. I feel like he’s played me pretty much the same every time.”
But is it truly a sure victory for the defending Australian Open champ? We take a look.
Why Novak Djokovic will win
Where do you begin? Djokovic hasn’t lost at the Australian Open in over six years, he holds an eye-popping 93-8 career record at the tournament and, oh yeah, he has hoisted the trophy a record 10 times. The world No. 1 has also feasted on Americans at the majors, losing just three times from 38 matchups.
There’s extra motivation for him this fortnight, too. Djokovic is hunting another slice of tennis history, something that could end the GOAT debate once and for all. An 11th Djokovic triumph in Melbourne would move him to outright first for major singles titles (25), breaking his current tie with Australia’s Margaret Court.
But why should Djokovic fancy this specific matchup?
Fritz has never beaten Djokovic. He has played him eight times, and eight times he has fallen well short. Djokovic has also won the past 12 sets of tennis against Fritz, dating back to their meeting at this very tournament in 2021.
In their most recent match, at last year’s US Open, Djokovic was in control throughout. He dictated the play, neutralized Fritz’s weapons and cruised to a comfortable 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 victory.
Don’t discount the back-against-the-wall factor, either. It’s fair to say Djokovic had just been plodding along in the early rounds of this year’s tournament, but ever since that back-and-forth with an unruly spectator in his second-round match, he has looked scarily dominant. He crushed Mannarino in his most recent outing, relinquishing just three games in the rout.
“Today was the best day, in terms of tennis, the way I felt on the court,” Djokovic said after his fourth-round win. “I’m really excited to enter the second week. I look forward to the battles because obviously the opponents are higher-ranked. There’s no easy matches, no doubt about that.”
Djokovic simply thrives under these circumstances, and the encounter with that unruly fan might well have jump-started his game.
Why Taylor Fritz will win
Could Sunday’s win over Tsitsipas have unlocked a new level of confidence for Fritz, the lone American man left in the field? Prior to that contest, he was 0-10 in Slam matches against top-10-ranked opponents. He is finally over that hurdle, and the monkey might well be off his back.
While Djokovic breezed through his fourth-round match against Mannarino, he hasn’t been totally invincible this tournament. In fact, for the first time since 2018, he dropped sets in both of his opening matches of a Slam campaign. The Serbian star has also confirmed he is battling a virus this fortnight in Melbourne, and it doesn’t appear he has fully overcome it.
Much of this will sound more like “why Djokovic could lose” as opposed to “why Fritz will win,” but the world No. 12 will need every little advantage he can get if he’s to cause the upset.
As mentioned, Fritz was defeated easily when he last played Djokovic at this same quarterfinal stage at Flushing Meadows, but it wasn’t as if he didn’t create opportunities. Fritz carved out 12 break point chances. The problem? He converted just two of them.
Fritz also struggled with his serve that day. Just 55% of his first serves landed in play, something you would expect to be an area of considerable improvement this time around. Through his four matches in Melbourne, Fritz is landing 66% of his first serves and is yet to dip below 64% in any match.
“I think that I have a lot more level to bring than I’ve previously brought against him,” Fritz said. “I think the conditions here are definitely better than the US Open.”
Fritz also enjoys the rare advantage of facing Djokovic in the second week of a major and being the fresher player. Through four matches, Djokovic has spent 11 hours and 24 minutes on court, while Fritz clocks in at 10 hours and 55 minutes. It might seem negligible, but again, any slight edge is something when facing the best player on the planet.
It’s going to be a monumental challenge for Fritz, but he is certainly in form. Maybe the form of his life.
“Start to finish I played really well,” Fritz said after his win over Tsitsipas. “I’m super happy about the way I finished it. The last three games of the match I really, really turned it on, almost like I was in a trance and everything. I felt like I knew exactly what shot to hit, the right decision to make on every ball. It’s been a while since I’ve had that feeling, so it gives me a lot of confidence.”
What will happen?
It’s difficult to see Fritz finally turning the tables on Djokovic at the tournament Djokovic has simply owned throughout his career. Expect a tight first two sets before Djokovic runs away with the match in the third.