Tommy Paul looks to continue his historic Australian Open run against Melbourne’s best

Tommy Paul enjoyed a career-best 2022.

Tommy Paul is amidst a two-week run that can only be described as career-changing. Once overshadowed by his American peers, Paul has forced his name into the conversation as the best American on the ATP Tour with his play in Melbourne. This, however, did not happen overnight. Over the past 18 months, the 25-year-old American has put together a very consistent and high-level body of work on the Tour, culminating with a run to the Australian Open semifinals.

American history on the line

Paul is a part of a men’s American tennis unit often referred to as the “‘97s and ‘98s,” signifying the birth years of the quartet that is Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Reilly Opelka, and Paul. Until this point, Paul seemed like the odd man out on the biggest stages. He was never the first ‘97 or ‘98 to accomplish anything on tour. The first to reach an ATP 250 final, an ATP 500 final, win a Masters 1000 event, and reach the Top 10 was Fritz. The first to win an ATP title and reach the quarterfinals and semifinals of a Grand Slam was Tiafoe. Opelka was the first to reach a Masters 1000 final. With a win on Friday night, Paul will change that narrative and secure the most coveted spot of all: a place in a Grand Slam final. He is on the precipice of being the first American man to reach the Australian Open final since Andre Agassi in 2003. Who stands in his way? The king of Melbourne, Novak Djokovic.

Embed from Getty Images

The dominance of Djokovic

To say Djokovic has had a fruitful career at the Australian Open would be an understatement. He has won the event nine times, three more than any other player. Djokovic holds a career singles record of 82-8 (91%) in Melbourne. Dating back to 2011, he has won 64 of his 67 Australian Open matches. He holds a perfect 18-0 record in the Australian Open semifinal and final matches. Although it seemingly never gets mentioned in the same breath, playing Djokovic inside Rod Laver Arena is akin to playing Rafael Nadal on Philippe-Chatrier.

Despite concerns about a left hamstring injury, Djokovic comes into this semifinal bout playing phenomenal tennis. In his last two matches, he has breezed by No. 22 seed Alex de Minaur, 6-2 6-1 6-2, and No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev, 6-1 6-2 6-4. Djokovic has been broken just three times this tournament and has dropped just one set. He is playing with a controlled aggression that sends his opponents flying from doubles ally to doubles ally before he kisses a winner on the line and sends his opponent woefully walking back to their towel. Watching Djokovic control the opposition over the past two weeks has been pure magic.

How Paul can topple Djokovic

That begs the question, what can Paul do to break through the nine-time Australian Open champion? It’s a tricky question I am sure he and his coach Brad Stine have contemplated over the last 40 hours.

There is no simple answer. Paul has to play one of the best matches of his career. He has to be deliberate with his shot selection, moving the ball from side to side with a purpose and goal of ending each point. It is well-documented that Paul is one of the better movers on tour. That said, he does not want to play a defensive match standing 10 feet behind the baseline. It is crucial he looks to be aggressive and put pressure on Djokovic. Paul has shown a vast improvement at the net over the past 12 months and should look to move forward as much as he can. Although he is not one of the big-serving Americans like Taylor Fritz and John Isner, Paul must steal as many free points on-serve as possible. The quicker he can hold his serve, the more energy he can use trying to break the Djokovic serve.

Djokovic and Paul have never met before on Tour. This could lend a slight advantage to the American as Djokovic may take a few games to feel him out. When the match approaches its turning point, Paul may need a few net cords to go his way. Who doesn’t when playing against the most successful player in Australian Open history? Friday night’s result aside, Tommy Paul will find himself in the top 20 on Monday and has announced himself as a force to be reckoned with on the ATP Tour.

Main Photo from Getty.