In one of his best, most dominating performances of his career, Novak Djokovic defeated rival Roger Federer 61, 62, 36, 63 in the Australian Open semifinals Thursday night.
Flawless Djokovic has now won 13 straight matches at the Australian Open as he seeks a record-tying 6th title there, and overall an 11th career Grand Slam. He’s never lost in the semifinals or finals in Melbourne (11-0).
Djokovic also pulls ahead of Federer in their rivalry for a first time 23-22. He’ll now await the winner of Thursday night’s battle between Andy Murray and Milos Raonic.
After the big win over Federer, here’s what Djokovic said:
Q. Did you ever play a better first set?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I’ve had matches where I’ve played similar tennis. But I think against Roger, these first two sets have been probably the best two sets I’ve played against him overall I think throughout my career.
I’ve had some moments against him in sets where I’ve played on a high level, but this was, yeah, I think a different level than from before. I’m just very, very pleased that I was able to perform the way I did from the very beginning till the end.
Q. Does that mean you weren’t fazed when he got into it in the third set?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I mean, of course, after two sets, you know, you start to think the player of Roger’s caliber will start playing better, will change few things. I think he started raising his first-serve percentage. He used his slice, short slice, very well, and court positioning. He started to be more aggressive.
I don’t think I’ve done too much wrong in the third. I was still playing solid, solid tennis. He deserved to win that one. After that, the roof was closed. In the fourth, I served on a very high level. I was very patient. I knew that I’m going to have my opportunity. When it was presented, I managed to utilize it and win in four.
Q. From outside it seems like a massive switch between Gilles Simon, Nishikori, and this match. Is it all about the mindset and the matchup?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Your best changes day to day. As I said, it’s not always possible to play this way. You strive to be the best you can be. When you’re playing one of your top rivals, somebody of Roger’s resume, of course it requires a lot of focus, determination, and a different preparation for that matchup than most of the other matches.
So that’s why I came out with I think a great deal of self-belief and confidence and intensity, concentration. I mean, I played flawless tennis for first two sets, no doubt about it.
Q. There was the fabulous point in the fourth set. Roger’s great retrieve. You turned it around in a flash. Talk about that process.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, I remember that point. It was actually the game I broke him in the fourth. It was a 15-30 point. I thought I’m going to end up the point with a smash, but it didn’t happen.
His defense was terrific that point. After it was done, I had to just forget about it and focus on the next point. Managed to return two very good returns and pass him on the net. That was a crucial break.
Obviously I didn’t want to allow him to come back to the match and give him an opportunity maybe to take the match to the fifth.
I know that if I drop my level or concentration or allow myself to get distracted by anything that he would take the first opportunity, jump on me, and just take the lead of the rallies. That’s what he has done in the third.
He just waits for a little drop from his opponent. That’s why he’s been so successful throughout his career.
But I was aware of that before the match, so psychologically I did not allow myself to have big oscillations. Of course, there was a lot of excitement from the crowd, as well, towards the end of the third set. Then of course they got into it. It was a great atmosphere.
But, you know, I’ve played in these particular situations before, and managed to use that experience.
Q. You have more than 20 wins with Federer, Nadal, Murray, and Wawrinka. Do you think your future, the next two, three years, can be even more dominant since there are not competitors of that same level, at least from what we can see now?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, it’s hard to say what future brings. Obviously tennis is different from what it was when I was coming up 10 years ago. It’s more difficult, as we were saying before, for young players to make a breakthrough and actually challenge the best players in the world.
It’s more physical nowadays and more demanding from each and every aspect. Point system is such that it doesn’t serve the young players to make a breakthrough. It’s a difficult sport, obviously. It’s an individual sport. You know, there are cases and players like Boris Becker and Chang, 16-, 17-, 18-year-old Grand Slam winners. It’s hard to really say if we’re going to have that or not in the future. It just really depends. The future is not in our hands.
It’s expected to in a way see new faces, a new generation of players, guys like Kyrgios, Zverev. Those are players that are showing some big game, big tennis, and they are able quality-wise to challenge the top players.
But to sustain that level and throughout the year to be actually consistent requires a lot more than just a good game. I’m going to try to stay here as long as possible. That’s from my perspective what I can influence, what I can do.
Whether or not I’m going to be dominant in the years to come, I don’t know. I cannot give you an answer on that. I can try to do my best to try to keep playing on this level.
Q. In your post match interview you were asked about the other semi. You said you’re expecting the unexpected. Does that mean you think Raonic is the favorite?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No, it was a joke. There was no intention to discredit anybody or put somebody in a position of favorite. I didn’t really think about that. It was just a little joke with Jim Courier.
No, I’m going to enjoy my two days off. I think it’s good for me at this stage. I’ve played a lot of tennis. Actually it’s going to serve me well for my recovery. Tomorrow’s match is going to be interesting to watch. Being in the finals and watching the other semifinals, of course it’s quite a joyful feeling.
Whoever wins, I’m going to be ready for the great battle.
Q. You came up with a very nice line about your convictions to be bigger than your doubts. Is that yours? A quote from somebody else? From your experiences?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It comes from my experiences, I think. In the end of the day you are battling yourself the most. There are so many players out there that are hitting the ball well.
Whether or not you’re able to cope with the pressure in these particular moments, fighting against some of the best players in the world for the major trophy, you know, of course there’s a lot at stake. Emotions are going up and down. It’s important to keep it together.
You go throughout the match, and even before the match, through different thought processes. Even though sometimes it seems unnatural, you need to keep pushing yourself to be on the positive side. That’s why I’ve stated what I stated on the court.
Q. When you play with Roger or Andy, the majority of the audience is not on your side. How do you deal with that in your mind?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Look, you know, I try not to focus on that. I feel like I’m enjoying lots of support around the world. I was saying before that when I play Roger it’s something that is expected in a way considering his career and his greatness on and off the court, what he has done for the sport.
He’s loved. He’s appreciated. He’s respected around the world. For me it’s normal in a way. I’m trying obviously to enjoy my time, to do the best that I can with the tennis racquet, but also focus on the positive energy rather than negative, rather than getting frustrated for that. There’s no reason.
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