Novak Djokovic advanced to his fifth Australian Open final Friday after a 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 5-set win over Stan Wawrinka. The win avenged Djokovic’s loss to the Swiss a year ago in the quarterfinals and put the Serb just three sets from a fifth Australian Open title, 8th overall.
On Sunday, Djokovic will meet childhood rival Andy Murray for a 24th time. The two have split five prior Grand Slam final meetings with Djokovic leading Murray 15-8 overall, winning the last four.
But after the rather sloppily-played match, Djokovic was less than pleased by his performance. Going into the final Murray may be the more in-form player.
Here’s what Novak said:
Q. Can you go through this match because there were a lot of ups and downs. You came through at the end, but it looked like a huge struggle for you.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, I did not play on the level that I intended before the match. There were parts of the match where I stepped in and played a game I needed to play, but parts of the match where I played too defensive and allowed him to dictate the play from the baseline. He has great depth in his shots. Once he has control of the rallies it’s very difficult to play against him. So, yeah, it was very emotional, very tense, as it always is against a top player in semifinals of a Grand Slam. Of course, judging by the last two matches we played here in Australian Open last two years, we could expect something like that, five-setter. So the battle was great. It was no different this year from the previous two years in terms of, you know, fighting from both sides. The only difference was that the fifth set went completely my way. But, again, it was a tight first opening game of the fifth set where he had some breakpoint opportunities, missed an easy ball. Yeah, I mean, a couple points decide a winner in these particular matches when you’re playing for Grand Slam final. I can say I’m glad, of course I’m happy and satisfied to go through. I’m proud of the fighting spirit that I had. But the level of performance was not where I wanted it to be.
Q. When Jim Courier spoke to you after the match he asked you if you had any physical issues, but then you sort of talked tactics.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yes, in terms of I think it was more mental in a way because once you back up and start playing defensively you spend a lot of energy. He was the one that was dictating the rallies. There’s no question about it. Some points of the match I did struggle physically to recover for the next one because I run a lot and he was getting a lot of balls back in play. I didn’t have many free points on the first serve as I did throughout the tournament, so that was a significant change. But, you know, nothing that will worry me. You know, I’m sure that I’ll be fit and ready for finals.
Q. Is it hard to keep your concentration and positivity when the level of play is much below where you want it to be?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Of course. You know, you have days when things aren’t going your way. I thought first set was pretty solid; second set not so much. The third, again, I had my moments and made a break in the fourth. I felt like I had him on the ropes, and I thought that this is the moment where I need to step in and capitalize on the opportunities and consolidate the break, but I haven’t. I made the break and 2-Love in the first, lost my serve again right away. Had love-40 the next game. Haven’t used those opportunities, and he was back in the match. This is what happens if you’re not using your opportunities one, two, three, four. The player like Stan with the immense quality that he has and power in his game will get the best out of you. That’s why that match went to the fifth set. After that I thought the crucial turning point in the fifth set was opening few games, two, three games. That’s when I felt a little bit more relaxed and not as pressured from his side.
Q. Did you feel different coming into this with how classic and epic the last two matches were, knowing you had to live up to that standard?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, well, I’m sure everybody who came to watch the match live and watched it on TV were expecting a five-set match. It’s what we delivered for them. Of course, it was not intentional from our side to play five sets, I’m sure. But, again, very, very few details, very few points, very few shots can decide a winner of these matches. That’s what happened tonight.
Q. You said the crucial moment was the first games of the fifth set. When he had a breakpoint on the first game of the fifth set, what was going through your mind? Were you really worried?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I was playing on the side that is against the wind, so it was harder to play on that side. It was a long game. He missed one backhand that was not difficult for him to make, but he missed it on the breakpoint. I was just hoping and trying to stay in the moment and focus on the next point and trying to win that game. I knew that if I do hold my serve that it’s going to give me a lot of confidence for the rest of the set. That’s what happened.
Q. Where do you feel you are after this match going into the final?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I think I have much more positive things to reflect on in my game and then all the matches that I played so far in the tournament than the negative. I’m in the finals. In the end of the day, that’s why I’m here, you know, to try to get far in the tournament. Getting to the finals in any way possible is a great achievement. I’m going to try to use that for build up of the confidence for finals.
Q. The contrasting records at finals here between you and Andy – you can’t lose one, 4-0; he’s a three-time runner-up – mentally for you, is that an advantage for you?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: He’s been playing some great tennis these couple weeks. From my side, it’s going to be necessary to perform at my best and play the best match of the tournament if I want to win. Obviously it’s finals. There’s no clear favorite. But as you mentioned, the record I have in finals against him here in Australia, we played couple times, can serve maybe as a slight mental edge. But not much. I don’t think he’s going to feel that on the court. I’m sure he’s going to be very motivated to win his first title here. I’m going to, of course, give my best that that doesn’t happen.
Q. Andy was clearly struggling at the O2 arena towards the end of last season. Have you noticed or been impressed by how he’s sort of turned that around?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It’s not the first time in his career that he’s turning things around this way. He had in last five years periods where, you know, maybe he goes through half of the season where he just doesn’t feel well, he doesn’t make any significant results for his standards, and then he gets to the finals of a Grand Slam or he wins a Grand Slam. Of course, people do expect a lot from him because he is a top player, a Grand Slam winner, an Olympic gold medalist. We all know he has the quality in his game. It’s not a huge surprise, honestly, to see him in the finals. But you’re right, looking at where he was at the O2 and his game at the end of 2014 season, maybe people were not giving him such a great chances to get to the finals. But to me it’s not a huge surprise because I know what his qualities are, you know, what he can play and what he can deliver.
Q. You go back 15 years. Are you happy to see Andy back in the Grand Slam final?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Sure. He deserves to be there. With the game that he has, he has a winning mindset. He’s a great fighter, great competitor, and somebody that commits to this sport. You can see that on a daily basis. He has a great team of people around him. He puts a lot of hours in the practice, gym, so forth. It pays off. I know him for a long time, so it’s great we are able to challenge each other now in another Grand Slam final.
Q. You have a special rivalry with Rafa; another one with Roger. What is the special part with Andy?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: The fact we know each other since 11, 12. There is only week difference between us. Very similar game and very similar role to professional tennis. So I think that’s what makes it very special.
Q. Do you still have problems with his accent?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No. His accent is fine. He spends a lot of time in London. I know he lives there. He’s trying to talk very clear and slow to everybody. I thank him. He’s got couple of guys around — we have a very good relationship, my team and his team, so we always joke around. There was a physiotherapist from Scotland that was with him I think a couple years ago. It was very hard to understand what he was saying. But his accent is absolutely fine. He speaks very clear.
Q. After tonight Wawrinka drops down to No. 9 in the rankings. For the first time since 2013, July, the fab four are back, the top four. Are you surprised about that? Would you believe that could happen?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, of course, there was naturally a lot of talks about the change of generation, new players coming in with Wawrinka and Cilic winning Grand Slams last year, that the four guys that you’re referring to will not be the top four anymore. But it’s the case, as you mention now, again. So I still think that the four guys still have the best chances to win all the Grand Slam titles. Even though we had the two different Grand Slam winners last year, those are the top four favorites. Then you have the other guys. But, of course, men’s tennis is in a different place than it was a few years ago. Now we have Cilic, Wawrinka, youngsters Nishikori, Raonic, Dimitrov, that are showing their qualities and are able to challenge the best players in the world.
Q. Stan said going into this match he already knew he was mentally dead. Did you have any indication from your side going in that maybe you weren’t going to be able to bring your best level?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, he didn’t seem too mentally dead to me on the court. He was playing some great tennis, especially in the second and fourth set. But I guess he knows what he’s talking. Of course, it’s not easy for him to face these kind of circumstances of being defending champion. There’s a lot of pressure, a lot of points to defend. As this gentleman mentioned, he’s going to drop to No. 9 in the world. It’s a significant drop for rankings. Many things change in terms of that drop. So, you know, that’s a valuable experience for him. But, again, it was semifinals of a Grand Slam. Once you’re on the court, you really forget about being exhausted or, you know, sick or something like this. You know, you just want to give your best, and that’s what I think he did.
Q. You’ve won seven of the last eight against Andy. Does that mean you’ve figured out the perfect way to play him?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, there is not much predictable scenarios in our matchup. I think we know each other pretty well. We practice a lot. We play many matches against each other on different surfaces, especially in this arena a few times in the finals. I’m sure we both know what to expect from each other’s game. The fact that I won last seven out of eight matches, of course it’s going to serve as a great confidence booster coming into the match. As I mentioned before, there’s no clear favorite. I think the way he’s been playing, he already knows what it takes to win a Grand Slam title. On the other hand, I’m going to try to use also my own experience and of course motivation to eventually get my hands on the title as well.
Q. I don’t know how much you’ve watched Andy this year, but if you have watched some of him, what do you think has changed in his game since last season?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I think he’s going for the shots. He’s one of the best defenders in the game, no question about it. He is an incredible counter-puncher. He’s got a lot of variety in his game. He’s got also a big serve. I think if he serves well, that’s a huge, let’s say, confidence boost and advantage for him. He feels that he’s more relaxed on the court and he can swing through his shots from the baseline. I think forehand has improved, judging by the matches he has played the matches during these couple weeks compared to a few months ago. The courts are playing a little bit faster in the last two years than it was the previous years in Rod Laver Arena as we mentioned before. Because they are faster, because the ball is bouncing a bit lower, that’s pretty suitable to his style of the game. He likes that. He has a flat backhand and moves around the court pretty well. So it’s going to be a very physical match, no doubt about that. It’s finals, so I’m sure that we both are going to go out and give our best.
Q. Does Stan have the best dropshots in the tour?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No (smiling).
Q. You won your first Grand Slam title here. Now you’re nearly about to win your fifth. Tell us what this would mean.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It would mean everything, of course. Getting to the finals is already a great achievement, as I mentioned before. But now this is the match for which you have worked for now two months. This is where you want to be. This is why you put all these hours on and off the court, trying to get yourself in a position to win Grand Slam trophy, because that’s what matters the most. I’m going to give my best, of course.
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