Stefanos Tsitsipas returns for his sixth Australian Open in a far better place, both physically and mentally, than he was one year ago. At the 2022 event, the Greek entered with great uncertainty, still on the mend from right-elbow surgery.

Despite arriving with low expectations, Tsitsipas advanced to the semi-finals for the second straight year and third time overall at the Happy Slam. This year, he is flying high entering the season’s first major after leading Team Greece to the semis at the inaugural United Cup.

“United Cup was a great experience. I’m happy that the event took place,” he said during Saturday’s Australian Open media day, noting that he personally campaigned for such a mixed-gender team event to be added to the tennis calendar.

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“I enjoyed every minute of it, sharing it with Maria [Sakkari] by my side. We formed some really nice memories, both in Perth and Sydney, despite our loss to Italy. I can only take good things out of it.

“We fought. We didn’t prevail and come out victorious, but it was definitely one of those events that tennis [has been] lacking. Tennis doesn’t have events like this. Tennis is a very individual, lonely sport. Getting together, sharing these moments together, being part of the same cause and the same goal together, it was something that makes me grow as a player and makes me want to look forward to the next edition of the United Cup.”

Tsitsipas went 4-0 in singles play at the event, including a thrilling three-set win against Matteo Berrettini in the semis. He also teamed with WTA No. 6 Sakkari to win a decisive mixed doubles rubber against Croatia in the Perth City Final.

Even with his early-season success, Tsitsipas is preparing himself for a very challenging 2023 season. Now nearing veteran status at age 24, six years after his Grand Slam debut at Roland Garros 2017, the Greek knows defeats will come no matter how good is current form is. The key, he says, is “bouncing back stronger”.

“That is the thing that will be the most challenging, let’s say, this year,” he explained. “We have younger guys coming from behind. We still have Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal playing good tennis. They’re still there.

“We’re dealing with a lot of different things being thrown at us. In my case, I know that a lot of things can be done this year. I have the capacity to withstand the pressures and the challenges that this year is going to bring to me. With the right preparation comes the right execution.”

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One of those younger guys is 19-year-old Holger Rune, who Tsitsipas said “reminds me a little of myself when I was younger at his age”. But at the Australian Open, there is one main man to beat: nine-time champion Novak Djokovic, who is seeking to reclaim his crown after missing out on the 2022 tournament.

“I think it’s good for his fans that he’s back, he’s able to play this year at the Australian Open,” Tsitsipas said. “He’s one of the strongest players in the field. He’s still got it. He can still play. He can still go deep in the tournament. He played well, very well, in Adelaide [where he won the title]. He had some good matches there.

“It’s up to us to do something about it and to stop him.”

But before he can get to the Serbian, whom he can only meet in the final, the third-seeded Tsitsipas will open his Melbourne campaign Monday with a first ATP Head2Head matchup against Frenchman Quentin Halys.

Like at the 2022 US Open, Tsitsipas has an opportunity to finish the fortnight atop the Pepperstone ATP Rankings; if he can win his first Grand Slam title, he will leave Australia as World No. 1.

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