Melbourne (AFP) – Serbian Novak Djokovic won all nine of his matches in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, and seeks to maintain his perfect record against American Tommy Paul on Friday. Unlike him, the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas seeks to break the jinx that accompanied him in this role in all three previous attempts when he faced the Russian Karen Khachanov.
Djokovic, who won his first title in Melbourne in 2008, suffered physically in the first rounds of this year’s edition due to a thigh injury.
But with two crushing wins in three clean sets against Australian Alex de Minaur and Russian Andrei Rublev, in which he lost only 12 games, the favorite to win the title confirmed that he was back to his best levels before the semi-finals on Friday.
The world’s fifth-ranked has additional motivation to go to great lengths and equalize Rafael Nadal’s titles in the four Grand Slams (22), after he missed last year’s edition when he was deported due to his refusal to receive the coronavirus vaccine, knowing that Nadal achieved the title in his absence.
“I always try to do my best, especially in the Grand Slam tournaments, because at this point in my career, these are the most important tournaments,” said the 35-year-old.
And the former world number one continued, “But I can say that there is additional motivation this year, because of the injury and what happened last year, I just wanted to perform well.”
“So far I have a perfect record on Australian hard courts, at the Adelaide tournament (which he won) and here. I’m getting progressively better. I couldn’t ask for a better position to be in at the moment.”
After defeating Rublev in the semi-finals, Djokovic achieved his 26th consecutive victory at the Australian Open since 2019, equaling the record of American Andre Agassi in the modern era of the game, which he achieved between 2000 and 2004.
And it will be difficult for world number 35 Tommy Paul, who reached the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time in his career in 14 attempts, to defy expectations.
“We’ve never met each other before,” said the 25-year-old. “There’s no doubt he feels very comfortable in Australia. It’s going to be a tough challenge but I’m at my best so it’s a good time.”
Djokovic, who won all nine finals he reached in Melbourne, said he kept a close eye on his American opponent.
“He’s playing probably the best tennis of his career,” said the 35-year-old. “He’s a very aggressive and dynamic player. I think he can serve all over the place. He’s a very complete player.”
“It’s his first semi-final, he has nothing to lose,” he added.
Fixed fourth for Tsitsipas?
Tsitsipas will meet world number 20 Khachanov in the other semi-final, looking to break a bad spell he has had three previous times in Melbourne, most recently in the past two years.
The 24-year-old believes he has matured enough and that this time could be his chance to reach a second grand final of his career after Roland Garros 2021 against Djokovic when he squandered a two-set lead.
“I feel good with the way I play. I don’t think I’ve felt that way for a long time,” he said.
He continued, “I said before that I am a different player (from the past) and I play in a different way. My mentality is different.”
He decided all five of his previous matches against Khachanov, the last of which was in the 16th round of the Rome Masters tournament last year, when he came back from a set behind, and expressed his enthusiasm to confront him again.
“It’s a game I’m looking forward to playing. I’m looking forward to more and better. I’m looking forward to creating magical memories here in Australia,” he said.
For his part, the Russian equaled his best result in a major tournament after reaching the semi-finals of the US Open last year.
“My first big semi-final in the United States gave me extra motivation and confidence to know my abilities, and what I can do when I’m at my best,” he affirmed.
© 2023 AFP
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