Novak Djokovic reaches Australian Open semifinals with crushing straight sets win over Andrey Rublev
Novak Djokovic continued his scintillating form at the Australian Openpushing aside world No. 6 Andrew Roelev in straight sets to reach the semifinals.
It was another near-perfect tennis display from the 35-year-old as he continued his seemingly inevitable march to a record-tying 22nd grand slam with a 6-1 6-2 6-4 win in just two hours and three minutes.
Djokovic is now playing arguably the best tennis of his career, losing just 12 games in his last two matches, extending his Australian Open win streak to 26, tying Andre Agassi’s record.
Early signs were ominous for Rublev, who still seemed to be feeling the effects of his five-set epic against Holger Rune, with the Russian broken in only his third service game.
It was a setback from which he never seemed to recover as Djokovic walked away with the match and moved one step closer to winning a record-extending 10th Australian Open title.
“I would rank this win as No. 2 [this year], but very close to the performance two nights ago,” Djokovic said in his court interview. “I couldn’t be happier with my tennis. I play very solidly from the back of the pitch, I like playing in these conditions… this pitch, I’ve said it before, it’s the most special pitch for me.
“The score in the first two sets says nothing about the reality of the match, there were a few close games we played. Andrey is a great opponent and great player, I have a lot of respect for him. I knew what the game plan was, but one thing is to imagine how you want to play and another thing is to execute it on the course. In the most important moments I found my best tennis.
“I’ve tried just about every biofeedback machine on the planet to get my leg ready, it worked and I’m going to keep going. I miss tennis on my days off, but it is important to be smart and wise with the body in these specific circumstances where it is more important to prepare for the next challenge.”
Djokovic now faces American Tommy Paul, who is playing in his first grand slam semifinal, for a place in Sunday’s Australian Open final.
“Obviously he doesn’t have much to lose, the first time in the semifinals of a grand slam,” said Djokovic. “He’s been playing great tennis over the last 12 to 15 months… so I have to be mentally ready, no different than the last couple of games anyway.
“If I play like this I think I have a good chance to continue.”
A number of commentators had noted after Rublev’s earlier victory over Rune that the Russian had already mentally conceded defeat to Djokovic.
When asked about the prospect of reaching the first grand slam semifinal of his career, Rublev joked that it would have been nice if the quarterfinal was against a player other than the Serb.
It was a comment made in jest, but after a grueling five-setter probably revealed a genuine fear most players feel when they know a match against Djokovic is coming up.
Indeed, in the opening stages Rublev was already starting to make an exasperated figure as Djokovic’s early brilliance forced him to fight with everything to try and win every point.
Rublev’s resistance was only broken in his second service game and he already looked a defeated man, with Djokovic breaking again soon after and running away to take the first set 6-1.
The second set was at least a small improvement, as Rublev held serve twice before being broken, but he seemed able to do little to stop Djokovic’s attack. It always felt like it was only a matter of when, not if, Rublev would be broken.
Despite winning comfortably so far, Djokovic was visibly frustrated on the pitch and yelled at his box a few times during the second set.
It was unclear what exactly annoyed him, but the wind had blown through the Rod Laver Arena a number of times during rallies, forcing both men to make mistakes.
Or maybe so accustomed to the near-perfection Djokovic has been throughout this tournament that just one stray shot was a shock to the system.
“You have to make adjustments and adapt to the conditions,” Djokovic said of the wind after the game. “It wasn’t that chilly around six when I was warming up and it started at the start of the game.
“When you have a strong wind at your back, people in the stands or on TV don’t see much of a difference, but for players it makes a huge difference.”
The second set proved to be a much tougher test for Djokovic, as he twice came under heavy pressure serving – at 3-2 and 5-2 – but remained steadfast both times to take a commanding two-set lead.
Things quickly went from bad to worse for Rublev, as he was broken this time in the first game of the third set. If the game didn’t feel over before, it certainly was now.
To Rublev’s credit, he kept fighting for every point and took the third set longer than the previous two, but it wasn’t enough to deny Djokovic a place in his 10th Australian Open semifinal.