Taylor Fritz would not have much of a chance in this match. However, as the organizers chose to prioritize “political correctness” and give preference to women and younger contenders for the Grand Slam silverware (Sabalenka and Krejcikova, and Sinner and Rublev), many will say that this move was actually “political” and “incorrect” towards the four-time voted best athlete in the world, who is trying to redefine the history of this sport here. Those who are familiar with the Australian Open would not be too surprised by this decision, but we move on and hope for the best. Novak and Taylor are playing each other in the Slam quarterfinals for the second time in a row (New York 2023, Novak 3-0), and a victory would extend Novak’s record streak of 48 semifinals at Grand Slams (out of 73 appearances at Slams). Fritz is aiming to reach the top 4 for the first time in his 3rd quarterfinal at the biggest tournaments, which is also the goal for Andrei Rublev tonight against Jannik Sinner – in the first clash between two Top 5 players in Melbourne. The previous match they played in Melbourne in 2021 was not without controversy and suspense, as Novak played with a severe abdominal injury and had to save the match in 5 sets after leading 2-0 – with Fritz later questioning the legitimacy of the injury. Since then, the two of them have “smoothed out misunderstandings” (especially when Novak ended up winning that Australian Open, showing that he can do more than just defeat Fritz), and all subsequent matches have been characterized by exceptional respect. “When Novak is not playing, we others have some chances. When he is there and ready – count on it being settled,” Fritz said in Turin two years ago after his sixth defeat against the Serbian ace. They have played five matches on hard courts so far, with only Fritz taking one or more sets from Novak in Melbourne, so the hope of winning against the world number one in their 8th encounter is very modest.
Novak is on his way to the 11th semifinal at the Australian Open, equaling the second place with Jack Crawford (Federer is first with 15), as well as the possibility of achieving his 33rd consecutive victory at this tournament, the longest among players in the Open Era. In 10 out of the previous 13 quarterfinals in Melbourne, Novak was successful (defeat against Roddick, Conga, and Wawrinka being the exceptions), while out of 57 appearances in Grand Slam quarterfinals, he has lost only 10. The fact that this will be his 58th quarterfinal at Slams puts him on par with Federer’s record, while he shares second place with Nadal and Nukomb with 14 appearances in the quarterfinals in Melbourne (Federer is first with 15).
In the heat and humidity of Rod Laver Arena, Novak will be interested in establishing dominance in the game as quickly as possible and finishing the job efficiently. Today, this will certainly be a process and not a race, and our ace should have high hopes in his serve and the ability to apply patterned shots in order to gain dominance and an advantage in the exchanges. Fritz knows how to attack the second serve, so the first level of defense and transition to offense will be the variables that will decide the course of games and the duration of points. Given the heat, both players will try to shorten the points, but the swollen ball will create complications for both of them in case of drop shots, volleys, and short diagonals, so it will be interesting to see who and when will decide to do what in this sense, and what the response of the other will be.
Essentially, Novak’s biggest weapons are his serve, return, consistency from the baseline, and mental strength to transition from one style of play to another and adapt the strategy in the most efficient way depending on what Fritz brings. When we say this, we mean both scenarios – if things go well and operationalize and speed up and raise the level of aggression with more frequent approaches to the net, as well as if things go poorly – to tighten ranks, reduce errors, consolidate serve and return, try variations with sudden approaches to the net, and find a way to make the American feel uncomfortable on the court. If one set remains on the opponent’s side, that is a sacrifice enough for entering the historic 11th.