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Djokovic steadies, then surges to semis past Fritz

  • Dan Imhoff

Novak Djokovic’s unbeaten Slam streak against American adversaries has hit double figures after withstanding a punishing early onslaught from Taylor Fritz to reach his 11th Australian Open semifinal.

MORE: All the scores from Day 10 at AO 2024

The 10-time champion had not fallen in a quarterfinal at Melbourne Park in a decade, but was seriously tested on Tuesday before he extended that stretch with a 7-6(3) 4-6 6-2 6-3 victory over the 12th seed in three hours and 45 minutes.

It marked his 32nd consecutive win against a US contender at tour level, and his 10th in a row at a major dating back to his Wimbledon 2016 defeat to Sam Querrey.

MORE: AO 2024 men's singles draw

Desperate for his first victory in nine attempts against the world No.1, Fritz needed to take risks and drag himself out of his comfort zone if he was to stand any chance on the Serbian’s most successful court.

He executed exceptionally for two sets, but sustaining that momentum with a maiden Grand Slam semifinal on the line ultimately became a bridge too far.

Djokovic withstood everything Fritz threw at him for two sets before powering away

“I suffered a lot the first couple of sets, also due to his high-quality tennis,” Djokovic said.

“He was serving well, he was staying close to the line, he was really kind of suffocating me from the back of the court.

“I was most of the rallies on my back foot. It was really difficult to find the right timing. It was extremely hot while the sun was still out, physically and emotionally very draining ... He's playing amazing tennis.”

No sooner had Djokovic fended off a pair of set points on serve than he ended a 21-shot rally with a screeching backhand crosscourt pass to bring up four set points in the tiebreak, pointing to his ear and blowing a kiss to Nick Kyrgios in the baseline commentary bunker. 

Locked in when it mattered, the longest first set of AO 2024 was sealed in an hour and 24 minutes, and the physical and mental challenge for Fritz was suddenly enormous.

BONUS: Download your copy of the Australian Open 2024 Official Program

Unperturbed, the 26-year-old stood toe-to-toe and snatched the first break of the match to open the second set and went on to level the arm-wrestle with his 14th ace, leaving the top seed reeling at a horror zero from 15 break point conversions.

Fritz, who thwarted last year’s finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas for a maiden Australian Open quarterfinal berth, had only lasted two hours and 35 minutes in the pair’s previous encounter at the same stage of last year’s US Open.

On Tuesday afternoon, they had barely split two sets and completed the opening game of the third set in the same time.

It came at a pivotal moment in the tug-of-war for momentum. At his 16th attempt, Djokovic finally landed a break for 2-0 and did not show a hint of emotion. 

There was a job to complete, and his surging confidence lifted him to a record-extending 48th major semifinal, where a showdown against fourth seed Jannik Sinner beckoned.

“I knew the kind of threat he poses when he serves on such a high quality,” Djokovic said of Fritz.

“Conversion of the break points was really poor. I saw it was four from 21 today. I think at the end of the day I managed to break him when it mattered in the third and the fourth.

“I think I upped my game probably midway through the third set all the way to the end. I served extremely well. I think I had probably even more aces than he did, which is a surprise stat, but it helped a lot in this kind of match-up." 

Djokovic has spent 15 hours and nine minutes on court so far this fortnight, the most time he's spent to get through the first five rounds of an Australian Open.

Unbeaten from the semifinal stage forth, the challenge has again been laid.