What ab tear? A week ago there were some serious doubts of the health of Novak Djokovic after sustaining what he called a muscle tear to his abdominal region.
Well, it’s miraculously healed (or, more likely it was never a tear).
Regardless, the Serb played his best match of what has been a tougher-than-expected tournament for him, blowing out the Cinderella story Aslan Karatsev 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 Thursday night at the Australian Open.
Djokovic had the groundies working, the serve was solid and other than a blip in the second — he let a 5-1 lead slip — it was vintage Novak who outclassed the world No. 114.
Whatever injury he has (if at all), he’ll now have two full days off to rest it further before the Sunday final. So that’s all good news for the man who has never lost in Melbourne once he gets to the semifinals (now 17-0).
“I felt as best as I felt so far in the tournament tonight,” said Djokovic. “Physically, mentally. I was hitting the ball very well, mixing the pace. Didn’t give him the same looks at all. Always kind of kept him guessing and served well when I needed to get out of trouble, late in the second set.
“I’m just very pleased with the performance. It came at the right time, before last match in a Grand Slam. Being in this situation many times, I think helps kind of gather all the necessary elements for me to peak at the right time, which is happening again. I’m obviously very happy about. I’m also happy that I have two days off now. Recovery is still the priority.”
For Karatsev, what a week, already what a year. Few had ever heard of him and now he’ll be firmly implanted in the Top 50 and who knows how much higher he goes. He reminds me of a Stan Wawrinka. Someone who can bully the ball around the court. And he made the most of his chances, coming from two sets down to shock a tight Felix Auger-Aliassime and then getting the injury from Grigor Dimitrov. Lucky? A little bit, but you have to finish the job, and he did.
So who’s Novak going to play in his 9th Australian Open final?
DANIIL MEDVEDEV vs STEFANOS TSITSIPAS
Not a surprise match-up in the semifinals. Medvedev has been very strong and he comes in having won 19 straight matches (11 against Top 10). And he just blew out his buddy Andrey Rublev who I thought would pull the upset on the quick courts — that never happened.
Medvedev has been flying around the court, creating havoc and in the warmer conditions, he must be a nightmare to play. Imagine facing a 6-foot-6 backboard in the heat!
As for Tsitsipas, with Rafael Nadal’s back being a question mark, many picked him to be the favorite to come out of this quarter. Rafa turned out to be OK, but if not for two bad overheads in that third set breaker, he would be sitting in this semi not Tsitsipas.
But credit to the Greek. He hung in there, stayed really strong on serve and came up big in the fifth right when he needed (recall he can up just short at the French in a similar situation to Djokovic). Rafa will rue this one for years. I don’t think he’ll have a better chance at another Australian Open. Not at his age.
So Tsitsipas comes in off a five setter and he had one last week against Thanasi Kokkinakis, but he should be fit since he did have a walkover from my final pick Matteo Berrettini who was one of the many players this week suffering from ab issues.
Head-to-head, this one has gone the Russian’s way 5-1 and I’m leaning it will be 6-1 after tonight.
Medvedev is the better mover, more experienced (he’s been to a Slam final) and by far the more in-form. He’s rock solid in every department.
Tsitsipas might have the higher ceiling and the more firepower, but he doesn’t have the consistency needed in a best-of-5 to beat a backboard. Unless Medvedev blows it like Rafa did in that breaker, Medvedev should come through. But because of Tsitsipas’s flare and variety and the fact he’s got so many big wins, it’s going to be tough.
That said, 19 straight wins and a 5-1 head-to-head are just too strong of a trend. I think with fans back, that should help Tsitsipas with the Greek crowd, but then again it could give added fuel to Medvedev who seems to feed off that negativity. Hard to say. But it should be a fun match.
The Pick: Medvedev in 5
ESPN will have live coverage starting a 3:30am ET for those who are awake. And it’s a good one to get up (or stay up) for!
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