MELBOURNE – Tennis fans may already know who will win the Australian Open men’s title on Sunday, after Novak Djokovic made it to the semi-finals by defeating fifth seed Andrey Rublev in straight sets.
For those who are into history, they will point to the fact that the nine-time champion has gone on to win the title-decider every time he makes the last four at Melbourne Park.
The Serb again delivered a masterclass on Wednesday to edge closer to a 22nd Grand Slam title after he beat Rublev of Russia 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 on Rod Laver Arena, and meets Tommy Paul on Friday for a place in Sunday’s final.
The unseeded American Paul defeated countryman Ben Shelton 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.
“I cannot be happier with my tennis, honestly,” said Djokovic, after reaching a 10th Australian Open semi-final – only Roger Federer (15) and Jack Crawford (11) have been there more often.
“I’ve been playing very solid from the back of the court and I really love playing in these conditions and this court. If I have to sum it up, in all the important shots, the important moments I found my best tennis. So that’s what makes me the most pleased tonight.”
The 35-year-old added of his match with Rublev: “Some really close games that we had. Andrey is a great opponent, great player. I have tons of respect for him, one of the biggest forehands, quickest players on the tour.”
Djokovic’s quest for a record-extending 10th Australian Open title has been far from smooth, plagued by a left hamstring strain suffered en route to the title at Adelaide earlier in January.
He struggled physically in the early rounds but was dominant during his fourth-round demolition of Australian hope Alex de Minaur, and he showed few problems against Rublev.
Victory for the red-hot favourite also propelled him into a 44th Grand Slam semi-final and close the gap on recently-retired Federer’s all-time record of 46.
In another astonishing record, he clocked a 26th consecutive match-win at the Australian Open to equal Andre Agassi’s Open-era record for longest streak at the first Grand Slam of the year.
The signs were ominous for Rublev before the match even started.
In contrast to Djokovic’s outstanding record in Melbourne, Rublev – who was taken to five sets by Holger Rune in the fourth round – came into the clash with a 0-6 record in Grand Slam quarter-finals.
“Like always I will try to take experience, lessons. The things that I need to improve I think is very clear,” said the 25-year-old, who has won 12 ATP titles but is still seeking his maiden major title.
“There was nothing that impressed me because Djokovic is one of the best. I knew he’s going to be really tough, that’s it.
“Mental-wise I feel this Slam was much better than the previous ones, so for sure I feel I’m a better player, I feel better physically also. Hopefully I can keep improving.”
Djokovic will now turn his focus to Paul, the first American man to reach the semi-finals in Melbourne since Andy Roddick in 2009.
The former world No. 1 will be wary of his less-heralded opponent, who withstood some ferocious serving from Shelton’s 24 aces before prevailing in their 3hr 6min clash.
Paul is also only the third active American man to reach a Grand Slam semi-final, joining John Isner (2018 Wimbledon) and Frances Tiafoe (2022 US Open) but will have to register a seismic shock if he is to go any further.
“I’m really excited, man. It’s really cool. I think it’s even cooler if I do play Novak,” the 25-year-old Florida-based Paul said after his victory, before he knew who his next opponent was.
“To play Novak here in Australia would be awesome. Obviously he’s pretty comfortable here in Australia. It’s going to be a challenging match. But I’m playing some of my best tennis.” AFP, REUTERS