Novak Djokovic continued his scintillating form at the Australian Open, knocking out world number 6 Andrey Rublev in straight sets to reach the semi-finals.
It was yet another near-perfect display of tennis from the 35-year-old as he continued his seemingly inevitable march to a record 22nd Grand Slam with a 6-1 6-2 6-4 victory in just two hours and three minutes.
Djokovic is now playing arguably the best tennis of his career and has lost just 12 matches in his last two matches, extending his winning streak at the Australian Open to 26, equaling Andre Agassi’s record.
The early signs were ominous for Rublev, who still seemed to be feeling the effects of his five-set saga against Holger Rune, with the Russian broken just on his third service game.
It was a setback he never looked like he would recover from, as Djokovic ran away with the match and took another step closer to winning a record 10th Open title. Australia.
“I would rank this win as #2 [this year], but very close to the performance of two nights ago,” Djokovic said during his on-court interview. “I couldn’t be happier with my tennis. I played very solid from the baseline, I love playing in those conditions…this court, I’ve said it before, it’s the most special court for me.
“The score of the first two sets does not reflect the reality of the match, we had close matches. Andrey is a great opponent and a great player, I have a lot of respect for him. I knew the game plan, but a one thing is to imagine how you want to play and another thing is to execute on the court.In the most important moments, I found my best tennis.
“I tried every biofeedback machine on this planet to prep my leg, it worked and I will keep going. I miss tennis on my days off, but it’s important to be smart and body wise in these special circumstances where it’s more important to prepare for the next challenge.
Djokovic will now face American Tommy Paul, making his first Grand Slam semi-final, for a place in the Australian Open final on Sunday.
“Obviously he doesn’t have much to lose, for the first time in a Grand Slam semi-final,” Djokovic said. “He’s been playing good tennis for the last 12-15 months…so I have to be mentally ready, not to approach it differently from the last two games anyway.
“If I play this way, I think I have a good chance of going through.”
A number of commentators had remarked after Rublev’s previous win over Rune that the Russian had mentally already conceded defeat to Djokovic.
Asked about the prospect of reaching the first Grand Slam semi-final of his career, Rublev joked that it would have been nice if the quarter-final was against someone other than the Serb.
It was a joking comment, but coming after a grueling five-man game, probably revealed a real dread that most players feel when they know a game against Djokovic is coming up.
Indeed, in the early stages Rublev had already started to put on an exasperated figure as Djokovic’s early brilliance forced him to fight with everything to try and win every point.
Rublev’s resistance was only broken in his second service game and he already looked like a beaten man, with Djokovic breaking again soon after and running away to win the first set 6-1 .
The second set was a slight improvement, at least, as Rublev held serve twice before being broken, but it looked like he couldn’t do much to stop Djokovic’s onslaught. He always thought it was only a matter of when, not if Rublev would be broken.
Despite winning comfortably so far, Djokovic had become visibly frustrated on the court and shouted at his box several times during the second set.
It was unclear what was bothering him, but the wind had blown over Rod Laver Arena several times during the rallies, forcing both men to make mistakes.
Or, perhaps, so accustomed to the near perfection that Djokovic has been throughout this tournament, that a single misplaced shot was a shock to the system.
“You have to make adjustments and adapt to the conditions,” Djokovic said of the post-match wind. “There wasn’t as much wind around 6pm when I was warming up and it started early in the game.
“When you have a strong wind at your back, people in the stands or on TV don’t see much difference, but for the players it makes a huge difference.”
The second set proved to be a much tougher test for Djokovic as he twice faced serious pressure on serve – at 3-2 and 5-2 – but held on each time to take a shot. advance in two sets.
Things quickly went from bad to worse for Rublev, who this time was broken in the first game of the third set. If the game didn’t seem over before, it certainly was now.
To Rublev’s credit, he continued to fight for every point and took the third set longer than the previous two, but it wasn’t nearly enough to rob Djokovic of a place in his 10th half. Australian Open final.