After some scratchy tennis the first three rounds, Novak Djokovic’s game and health is coming together at just the right time in Melbourne. The 9-time Australian Open champion has shrugged off any hamstring concerns with another dominant display Wednesday night hammering Andre Rublev 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
For the second straight match, Djokovic didn’t drop serve and appeared to be in full flight, cracking in the 2 hour affair. He broke Rublev 5 times (converting all 5 break chances) while cracking 32 winners.
“Very close to the performance of two nights ago,” Djokovic said on court. “Cannot be happier with my tennis. Been playing very solid from the back of the court.”
“Overall I think that the scoreline in the first two sets doesn’t speak the truth or the reality of the match. It was some really close games that we had. Andrey is a great opponent, a great player. I’ve got tons of respect for him, one of the biggest forehands, one of the the quickest players on the Tour.
Djokovic has now won his last 15 matches, 39 straight in Australian and 26 in a row in Melbourne.
“I would rank it as number two, but very close to the performance of two nights ago,” said Djokovic. “I cannot be happier with my tennis, honestly. I’m playing very solid from the back of the court and really love playing in these conditions on this court.
“It’s definitely the most special court for me.”
Rublev had saved two match points in a thrilling win over Holger Rune two days ago, but the Russian drops to 0-7 in Grand Slam quarterfinals.
Up next for Novak in his 10th Australian Open semifinal is surprising American Tommy Paul. The 25-year-old Paul withstood the power game of Ben Shelton to advance to his first Grand Slam semifinal with a 7-6(6), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.
Paul was cruising on his serve while Shelton was having greater difficultly holding that in previous matches. After edging a tight breaker, Paul finally broke through midway in the second ending Shelton’s 67 straight holds streak.
Paul would seize full control with a break in the third however up 4-3, 30-0 and six points from the win, Paul let the moment get to him. He was broken and eventually lost serve again to the 20-year-old who finally got fired up and vocal.
But Paul broke to start the fourth and a weary Shelton had little left.
Paul becomes the first American man in the Australian Open semifinals since Andy Roddick in 2009. He joins John Isner and Frances Tiafoe as active American men to have made the last four at a Slam. He’ll rise into the Top 20 on Monday.
“This is my first time on this court, my first time in a Grand Slam quarterfinal, Ben’s first time out of the States, I think he had a pretty good trip as well,” Paul said on court to John Fitzgerald.
“Making it to the second week of a Slam, that’s everyone’s dream when they start to play tennis. I can’t believe I’m here right now.
“I’m so happy to get through that match, Ben is such a tough player to play against, he’s going to be in many more matches like this. Everyone should be really excited for that kid.”
Just 20, Shelton was the men’s breakout star of the tournament. A quarterfinal is quite a run for a kid who had never been out of the country before.
“I definitely exceeded my expectations this week,” said Shelton. “What I thought I could do on the court, not just tennis-wise but physically being able to get through as many three-out-of-five-set matches as I did.”
“I’ve learned that I have the ability to be really tough on the court. To stay tough for five sets. I’ve kind of proven to myself that I can hang with a lot of people for extended periods of time out on the court. I’m taking that as a huge positive, not just my tennis level but my mentality out on the court, the level that I was able to compete at, and maintain it through the week.”
The men’s will have a day off before return Friday for their semifinal round.
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