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"I am born a champion": Tsitsipas looks to the future despite loss

  • Dan Imhoff

In a winner-takes-all contest to be crowned not only with a maiden Australian Open title but also as world No.1, Stefanos Tsitsipas understandably could have been wracked with nerves with a dual prize at stake.

In his second Grand Slam final against Novak Djokovic, the 24-year-old found his tilt at the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup instead only brought an eagerness to compete.

MORE: All the scores from AO 2023

DRAW: The Australian Open 2023 men's singles 

He entered Rod Laver Arena on Sunday night, greeted by a boisterous crowd and a rampant opponent, aware that a first victory at this stage would crown him a major champion, the first from Greece.

He left with high praise for Djokovic whose 6-3 7-6(4) 7-6(5) triumph drew him level with Rafael Nadal on 22 major titles.

“He is the greatest that has ever held a tennis racquet,” Tsitsipas told the Rod Laver Arena crowd.

In his 10 years competing in Australian Open finals, Djokovic had never lifted the runner's-up silver salver and never had to front the post-match press conference in defeat.

Tsitsipas had earned the chance to make that happen, but after almost three hours on court, could not crack the code.

Nerves, he said, did not play a part.

“I wouldn't say I was nervous. I was excited to be out on the court, getting an opportunity to fight for that No.1 spot tonight,” Tsitsipas said.

“I was really looking forward to the game, giving myself a good chance out there. There are definitely things that I can improve and get better at, given the circumstances today.

“But I don't think there's any reason for me to be affected by today's loss. It is a step forward… I very much enjoy the way I play, my attitude on the court, my mental stability, my concentration levels.

“There's still a little bit more to add to the whole structure of my game. I couldn't be more excited to be heading towards that path.”

Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas following the AO 2023 men's singles final

No challenger since Hyeon Chung in 2018 has denied Djokovic at Melbourne Park.

Victory would have made Tsitsipas the first top-10 player since Stan Wawrinka in 2014 to beat the Serbian at his most successful major.

He stood to become the first since the Swiss to land his maiden Slam at this arena and the 29th to top the rankings since their inception in 1973.

“Today was my opportunity to be a world No.1. I had a better opponent on the other side of the net who did things much better than me. He deserves that spot currently,” Tsitsipas said.

“What I can say is being on the tour for a few years now, I get a lot of different experiences, I get a lot of different things that I'm faced with.

“It's my time to aim for something like this. I don't see any reason to be lowering my expectations or my goals.

“I am born a champion. I can feel it in my blood. I can feel it as a competitive kid that I was when I was young. It's something that is within me.”

In commentary, former title winner Jim Courier highlighted a pre-match omen, which could have aligned with a Tstisipas triumph.

Competing for the No.1 ranking and his first major title, Tsitsipas’ locker number beneath Rod Laver Arena was No.1.

Courier also noted that Djokovic was contesting his 33rd Grand Slam final. His locker number at this year’s Australian Open was No.33.

The only numbers the Serbian cared for now were Australian Open No.10 and Grand Slam title No.22.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Tsitsipas said. “We have other great champions, too, like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer also, in my opinion, one of the best our sport has ever seen, but not only our sport, sports in general.

“He has earned it with so much dedication that he has put in, with so much professionalism in his everyday life.

“It's a wake-up call for me to sort of do the same. I can only learn from that. I can only use that for my benefit. I'm blessed that I get the opportunity to do that.”