Djokovic jumps into seventh AO decider

  • Michael Beattie

World No.1 Novak Djokovic maintained his perfect record in Australian Open semifinals, racing to a 6-0 6-2 6-2 victory over No.28 seed Lucas Pouille to set up a second title showdown with Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park.

The reigning Wimbledon and US Open champion was a class apart from first-time Grand Slam semifinalist Pouille, who fell short of the levels he reached in his quarterfinal performance on his return to Rod Laver Arena on Friday night. 

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The Frenchman was left shell-shocked after shipping the first seven games of the match in the face of a near-flawless performance from Djokovic, who made just two unforced errors in the first two sets, and five overall, compared to the Frenchman’s 27.

“It’s definitely one of the best matches I ever had on this court,” said Djokovic, who has never lost an Australian Open semifinal or final. “Everything worked the way I imagined, and even more so. 

“Tough one for Lucas, but he had a great tournament. He definitely has the quality to be a top-10 player. It was his first semifinal, and the occasion is different, there’s more weight in the match. He’s going to get more of these types of matches in the late stages of Grand Slams.”

Pouille never recovered from Djokovic's opening onslaught

Djokovic ran away with the first set without dropping a game, routing Pouille in 23 minutes, with the 24-year-old looking increasingly anxious as he struggled to find his rhythm.

The Frenchman finally got on the board to make it 1-1 in the second set, twice hooking cross-court forehand passes that left the Serb for dead. But having dealt with the pace and power of Milos Raonic so well in his previous match, he found the angles and movement of Djokovic an entirely different prospect as he was made to look decidedly second-best.

Djokovic had the measure of Pouille in all departments, hitting 24 winners – six more than the Frenchman – while denying him a single break point. Indeed, in the final set, he gave up just one point on serve.

Unforced errors
5 Novak Djokovic
27 Lucas Pouille

It’s a far cry from the 31-year-old’s prospects a year ago, when he lost in straight sets to Hyeon Chung in the fourth round. Elbow surgery followed, as did an astonishing resurgence to titles at Wimbledon and the US Open, and the No.1 ranking. 

Now he stands one win away from a third consecutive Grand Slam title and a record seventh Australian Open men’s singles crown, eclipsing both Australia’s Roy Emerson and Roger Federer, with whom he shares the current record of six. 

As unbelievable as the turnaround sounds, Djokovic says his belief never wavered.

“Yes – but it was highly unlikely 12 months ago that I would be where I am today a year later,” he conceded. 

“I’ve said before that I always had belief in myself, and self-belief always prevails. There was always part of me, and still is, that believed that I can play this way. That’s the key – always relying on your qualities and trusting the process will turn out the way you want it to.”

Of their 52 previous career meetings – an Open era record – the only previous Australian Open showdown between Djokovic and Nadal came in 2012, when the Serb prevailed after five hours and 53 minutes to win the longest Grand Slam final of the Open era. 

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Djokovic leads their head-to-head 27-25, beating Nadal in their last meeting to reach the 2018 Wimbledon final, a five-hour, 15-minute contest that spanned two days.

“First of all, I would definitely want to buy a ticket for the match,” he joked of Sunday’s final. 

“We have slightly different rules this year with the super tiebreak, so I don’t think it will go as far as six hours. That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and hopefully the outcome can be the same for me.”