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Semi Cinderella? Tommy Paul huge underdog vs. Novak Djokovic

Jan 23, 2023; Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; Tommy Paul of the United States celebrates his victory over Roberto Bautista-Agut of Spain on day eight of the 2023 Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park. Mandatory Credit: Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports

Tommy Paul will be playing in his first career Grand Slam final on Friday at the Australian Open.

The man on the other side of the net? None other than Novak Djokovic, who is gunning for his 10th career title in Melbourne, which would also tie him with Rafael Nadal for the most all-time Grand Slam victories at 22.

It stands to reason that Djokovic is the -2500 favorite at BetMGM to end the magnificent run Paul (+1000) has made to this point. The same odds at BetRivers have seen Djokovic draw 96 percent of the bets and 89 percent of the money to eliminate Paul.

After battling a left hamstring injury early in the tournament, Djokovic has reeled off 11 consecutive sets since dropping his last one in the second round.

That included a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 masterpiece in dismantling No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals.

Djokovic, seeded fourth despite being the pre-tournament favorite at +120 by BetMGM, is now the -450 favorite to claim the men’s title. Paul has the longest remaining odds at +2000.

Djokovic is also BetMGM’s biggest liability in the men’s draw as he has been backed by 23.0 percent of the total bets and 54.4 percent of the money. At BetRivers, the Serbian also leads the way with 84.3 and 94.1 percent of the men’s title action, respectively.

Going for Paul is a nothing-to-lose mentality.

Wednesday’s win over fellow American Ben Shelton was the first career Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance for the 25-year-old Paul, who entered the tournament ranked 35th in the world and a +30000 to win the title. No matter what happens Friday, he will leave Melbourne no worse than a career-best No. 19.

Paul is also the first American man to reach the Australian Open semifinals since Andy Roddick in 2007. A storybook title in Melbourne would rocket the New Jersey native into the top 10 in the world.

“I like to think the last four years of my career has just been like steady steps moving up. I mean, that’s what it’s felt like,” Paul said. “I feel like hopefully 2023 is the year where I really make a big jump.”

The Paul-Djokovic survivor will face the winner between No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 18 Karen Khachanov.

Tsitsipas, who is still in search of his first Grand Slam title, is the -250 favorite against Khachanov (+200), who got past American Sebastian Korda in the quarterfinals. Despite having dropped only two sets en route to the semifinals, Khachanov is being offered at +1400 to win the men’s title compared to +400 for Tsitsipas.

Of note is that Khachanov did reach the semifinals in the previous Grand Slam event at the U.S. Open. Perhaps some of the lack of public backing of Khachanov comes from the fact that the highest-ranked player he has defeated to this point in Melbourne is No. 16 Francis Tiafoe in the Round of 32.

Tsitsipas’ title odds have shortened from +1000 to open the tournament and he is BetMGM’s third-biggest liability with 8.1 percent of the bets and 5.4 percent of the money backing him. Meanwhile, Khachanov’s odds have shifted from +12500 to +1400.

The Greek star has drawn 88 percent of the tickets and 92 percent of the money at BetRivers to beat Khachanov, the Russian native who currently lives in Dubai. Tsitsipas has also been backed by 11.3 percent of the men’s title money, while Khachanov has garnered only 2.1 percent of the action.

Tsitsipas, 24, is in the semifinals of the Australian Open for the fourth time, but is seeking his first trip to the finals. His lone Grand Slam finals appearance remains the French Open in 2021, where he lost to Djokovic after holding a two-set lead.

If Tsitsipas can claim that first Grand Slam, he’ll also rise to No. 1 in the world for the first time.

“I’m feeling great with my tennis,” he said after beating Jiri Lehecka in straight sets in the quarterfinals. “I don’t think I felt so good in a long time. I will definitely say yes (to winning the title).

“I’ve said it, I’m a different player, playing different. My mentality is different. When I’m out on the court, I don’t really think of negatives, to be honest. I just go out there and play the game.”

–Field Level Media

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