Stefanos Tsitsipas overcame a third-set swing to defeat Karen Khachanov and reach his first Australian Open final.
The third seed has been a man on a mission all fortnight, troubled only by Jannik Sinner in the fourth round so far, and he looked set to head into the final as he stepped forward to serve for a victory in straight sets.
But Russia’s Khachanov hung on, breaking Tsitsipas then saving two match points in the third set tie-break before the Greek finally secured a 7-6(1) 6-4 6-7(6)6 win -3.
The 24-year-old immediately recalled watching Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis reach the final here in 2006, saying: “As a kid maybe I dreamed one day of playing on this pitch and competing with the best players in the world. It brings back memories of being a kid and watching him on TV and cheering him on.
Tsitsipas will become world number one if he wins the title on Sunday, and he added: “I like that number. It’s a childhood dream to be number one in the world. I’m close and I’m happy that it’s coming to Australia, an important place for me. Let’s do it guys, let’s go.
Tsitsipas had reached the last four in three of the last four years at Melbourne Park without going any further, losing in 2019 to Rafael Nadal and in 2021 and 2022 to Daniil Medvedev.
He was not to be denied this time, however, and will now be aiming to do better than his only previous slam final at Roland Garros in 2021, when he trailed Novak Djokovic by two sets to one but was ultimately beaten.
He may well find the Serb on the other side of the net, but he will believe that if he can show the same form he has produced for most of this contest, he may have a chance of pulling off the upset.
Tsitsipas will surely have to avoid the same mistakes if it’s Djokovic he faces, having also failed to serve in the first set.
After breaking to lead 5-3, Tsitsipas played a poor game to give up serve and then struggled briefly at 5-5 after a double fault when a second violation caused him to forfeit a first serve.
He recovered to hold, however, and played a clear tie-break to move in front.
Tsitsipas, who had won his previous five matches against Khachanov, was also the better performer in the second set, finally breaking the penultimate game, and he looked set for victory as he served for the game at 5-4 in the third.
Khachanov rallied, however, falling back and then producing two huge forehand winners when Tsitsipas took a 6-4 lead in the tie-break.
The third seed looked shaken and drove a long forehand to give Khachanov the set, but he quickly regrouped with a break early in the fourth and this time hung on.
The result means a second consecutive semi-final exit in a slam for Khachanov, who was cheered on by a number of fans waving Armenian flags following his public support for the breakaway region of Artsakh.
“I am grateful to them for encouraging, for supporting, for coming,” Khachanov said. “And also Russian fans, they weren’t allowed to bring flags, Belarusians too, but I heard them. There were a lot of Russians shouting and supporting me the whole way.
“I’m just very happy to see everyone on this pitch and giving me love until the end.”