The super showdown between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in the Australian Open semifinals was far from super. The Serb battered the banged-up Federer 7-6(1), 6-4, 6-3 to advance to his eighth career Australian Open final.
Federer entered the contest under a cloud of uncertainty. The Swiss not only had played 14 sets in his last three matches, but also pulled up lame with a groin/lower back injury in his last match against Tennys Sandgren. And there was much talk that Federer would be unable to play.
But much to the delight of his fans, he did. With little information on his practices, Federer took the court and looked sharp. He blitz Djokovic early, breaking the Serb twice, pounding aces, and then with Djokovic serving 1-4, 0-40, it looked like Federer would actually cruise to an opening set week.
Djokovic, though, dug in and started working the points. The longer the rally, the better chance for Djokovic as Federer appeared to be laboring with his movement.
The world No. 2 fought back to level then stormed to his sixth straight tiebreak win over Federer. Once Djokovic got another early break in the second, it was all but over as the ailing Federer had little in the way to hurt Djokovic.
“It could have definitely gone a different way, if he’d used those break points,” Djokovic told the crowd. “He got off to a good start and I was pretty nervous at the beginning.
“I have to say I respect Roger for coming out tonight. He was obviously hurt and not close to his best in terms of movement. It wasn’t the right mindset at the beginning, because I was watching him and how he was moving early on, rather than executing my own shots. I managed to dig my way back and win the first set, which was obviously mentally important.”
Djokovic is now 15-0 in Melbourne once he reaches the semifinals. An incredible number. And he now leads Federer 27-23 in their series.
He’ll now have two days to rest before the Sunday final against either Alexander Zverev or Dominic Thiem.
“I’m pleased with the way I’ve been feeling and playing,” he said. “I dropped only one set so far up to the final. I have two days of no match right now, which actually is really good. It gives me more time to recuperate and gather all the necessary energy for the final.”
The 38-year-old Federer admitted afterwards he wasn’t fully right.
“I was playing with nothing to lose obviously,” said Federer. “I was just trying to take big cuts at the ball, trying to keep the rallies to a minimal, make sure I keep him off guard, mix it up as much as I can. I think I returned really well in the beginning. Got some really good connections going. Unfortunately, I was not able to serve it out. To be honest, I feel like I should have found a way to do that, but wasn’t able to.
“Overall, at the end of the day, I guess I’m very happy,” he said. “I got to be happy with what I achieved.
Today was horrible, to go through what I did. Nice entrance, nice send-off, and in between is one to forget, because you know you have a 3% chance to win. You know, got to go for it. You never know. But once you can see it coming, that it’s not going to work anymore, it’s tough.”
On Friday night, Thiem and Zverev will meet for a ninth time with Thiem winning six including the last two in straight sets. The winner goes to his first hard court Slam final, and for Zverev the biggest title match of his career.
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