Novak Djokovic yesterday delivered a masterclass to race into the Australian Open semi-finals and edge closer to a 22nd Grand Slam title with a straight-sets thrashing of Andrey Rublev.
The Serbian was in the zone, blitzing past the Russian 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 at Rod Laver Arena and is to meet Tommy Paul for a place in Sunday’s final.
“I cannot be happier with my tennis, honestly,” said Djokovic, after reaching a 10th semi-final at Melbourne Park.
Only Roger Federer (15) and Jack Crawford (11) reached that point in the tournament 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,” the 35-year-old said.
“Some really close games that we had,” he added. “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 this month.
He struggled physically in the early rounds, but was dominant during his fourth-round demolition of Alex de Minaur, and he showed few problems against Rublev.
Victory for the red-hot favorite propelled him into a 44th Grand Slam semi-final to close the gap on 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.
In the other men’s singles match of the day, Paul beat Ben Shelton to reach a maiden Grand Slam semi-final and end his fellow American’s fairytale run at the Australian Open.
In a clash between two unseeded players, Paul used his greater experience to grind down the 20-year-old 7-6 (8/6), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 in a battle of attrition.
Paul is the first US man into the last four of the Australian Open since Andy Roddick in 2009.
Victory put the 25-year-old into his first major semi-final on the 14th attempt, with the world No. 35’s previous best at Wimbledon last year when he reached the fourth round.
Despite never playing a Slam quarter-final before, he had far more experience than Shelton, who was at only his second major and, remarkably, on his first trip overseas.
Paul leaned on that advantage and his returning prowess to disarm the left-hander’s biggest weapons — his serve and his forehand.
“Making it to the second week of a Slam is everyone’s dream when they play tennis. Can’t believe I’m here right now,” said Paul, who has won one Tour-level title, on the Stockholm hardcourts in 2021, and achieved a career-high ranking of 28 in September last year.
“There wasn’t too much rhythm in the match, but Ben is very tough to play against,” he said. “He’s going to be in many, many more matches like this so everyone should be really excited for that kid.”
In the women’s singles, Aryna Sabalenka set up a semi-final with surprise package Magda Linette.
Belarusian Sabalenka looks the favorite to win her first major crown after a gritty display in defeating Croatia’s Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-2.
Fifth-seeded Sabalenka is the highest remaining seed left in a women’s draw that has been upended by shocks.
The match was closer than the score suggested, but Sabalenka is in scintillating form — she has yet to drop a set in Melbourne and has won all nine of her matches this year.
“I’m super happy with the win and it was so great to play here today, the atmosphere was unbelievable,” she said.
Sabalenka is to play unseeded Linette for a place in Saturday’s final after she marched into her first major semi-final at the age of 30.
Linette stunned former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 7-5 to continue flying the flag for Poland after the shock exit of world No. 1 Iga Swiatek.
“I’m so emotional, I can’t really believe it,” said Linette, ranked No. 45 in the world. “It’s a dream come true. I’m super grateful and happy. Thank you for cheering and supporting, I really needed this.”
In the women’s doubles, the US’ Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff defeated Taiwan’s Chan Hao-Ching and China’s Yang Zhaoxuan 6-1, 6-1.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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