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Report: Djokovic makes quick work of Rublev for semifinal slot

  • Ravi Ubha

Men's singles quarterfinals

Novak Djokovic is picking up steam at the sharp end of his most successful Grand Slam – an ominous sign for the rest of the field. 

MORE: All the scores from Day 10 at AO 2023

Djokovic raced into a 10th semifinal at the Australian Open on Wednesday night, charging past Andrey Rublev 6-1 6-2 6-4 under the lights in breezy Melbourne. 

Djokovic's trademark returns punished Rublev, as did his change of direction and countering from the baseline. And when pushed on serve, Djokovic often responded with unreturnable serves – including second-serve aces. 

The performance came after Djokovic overcame Australia's Alex de Minaur in similarly overpowering fashion in the round of 16. 

Djokovic's fine form against De Minaur continued against Rublev (Getty Images)

"Very close to the performance of two nights ago," Djokovic told interviewer Jim Courier on court afterward. "Cannot be happier with my tennis. Been playing very solid from the back of the court."

The build-up

Djokovic and Rublev couldn't have made the quarterfinals in more contrasting fashion. 

MORE: AO 2023 men's singles draw

The Serb said there were no issues with his tender left hamstring in the fourth round – and it showed. Djokovic smacked winners and smothered de Minaur, cruising in straight sets without facing a break point

Meanwhile, Rublev saved two match points on serve at 5-6 in the fifth set and later edged Holger Rune in a fifth-set tiebreak

When a net-cord return winner from Rublev at 10-9 sealed proceedings, one couldn't help but ponder if this could be the fifth-seed's time. 

Djokovic won both their previous hard-court matches, but Rublev did beat the 21-time Grand Slam winner in Serbia on clay last April. 

But beating Djokovic at his second home – Rod Laver Arena – loomed as a much tougher task.

Story of the match

The thick tape on Djokovic's upper left leg could be a constant at AO 23; the strapping was there again. 

Rublev's laser-like groundstrokes figured to test Djokovic's hamstring because of the quick bursts required to counter such strikes. 

However, Djokovic often dictated himself. 

Rublev almost dropped serve in his first service game but did so in his next service game from 40-15, double-faulting long. 

Djokovic broke open the set with another break, and perhaps it relaxed him a tad too much. 

He faced his first two break points at 5-1. To the frustration of Rublev, two fine first serves quashed the danger.  

Djokovic repeated the trick early in the second when behind 15-30 and thwarted a break chance at 3-2 with yet another potent delivery.

However, Rublev earned a second opportunity, and this time benefited from a second serve with less pace. But Djokovic defended, then capped a 15-shot rally with a forehand winner and huge roar. 

It was all going wrong for Rublev. He wears his heart on his sleeve and is humourous in his dealings with reporters, which make him likeable. But reasons to smile were few and far between against Djokovic.  

He took out his frustration when ripping a forehand return as Djokovic opted to sprinkle in a serve and volley on a first set point at 40-15. It was one of three straight forehand winners, but Djokovic would save a break point with, predictably, a winner. 

Rublev tried to stem the flow, but ran out of answers (Getty Images)

A dumped forehand volley helped Djokovic to break to start the third, and that was it. 

Not practicing in days between matches is helping his leg issue, he said. 

"To be honest I've been connected to machines more than I have been connected to anybody else or my bed or anything else in the days off," said Djokovic. 

"I've tried about any biofeedback machine on this planet in order to get my leg ready, and it worked. 

"I'm going to keep going."

Key stats 

Djokovic's 26th straight win at the Australian Open tied the Open era men's mark of Andre Agassi – a streak ended by Rublev's countryman, Marat Safin, in 2004. 

MORE: Djokovic v Rublev match statistics

He moved into sole possession of third, too, on the all-time list of most men's semifinals at the Australian Open, and now only trails Jack Crawford's 11 and Roger Federer's 15. 

What this means for Djokovic

Djokovic meets maiden Grand Slam semifinalist Tommy Paul on Friday for the first time. Paul, ranked 35th, narrowly missed a seeding; the American won his quarterfinal in four sets over compatriot Ben Shelton earlier on Wednesday.

Here's what Paul is up against: Djokovic has never lost a semifinal – or final – at the Australian Open. 

When Djokovic makes a Melbourne Park semifinal, victory has followed (Getty Images)

"He's been some playing some terrific tennis in the last 12 to 15 months. He's got a great coach," Djokovic said of Paul's coach Brad Stine – who used to coach Courier. 

"I have to be ready for that match. Not approach it any different than I have the last couple of matches. If I play this way, I think I have a good chance to go through."


What's next for Rublev?

Rublev continues to knock on the door of a Slam semifinal but, like Jessica Pegula, hasn't been able to take the next step yet. 

He fell to 0-7 in Grand Slam quarterfinals, and all but one of those defeats have been in straight sets. Like Pegula, he has met extremely tough opponents. 

Given his long tenure in the top 10 and at age 25, more chances are sure to come.