Novak Djokovic said he “sent a message” at the Australian Open by beating Andrey Rublev on Wednesday to make the semifinals and move closer to a 22nd Grand Slam title. The Serb was in the zone to flash past Russia’s fifth seed 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 at the Rod Laver Arena and set up a meeting with Tommy Paul for a spot in Sunday’s final. The unseeded American defeated his compatriot Ben Shelton in the quarterfinals 7-6 (8/6), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. Djokovic’s quest for a record-extending 10th Australian Open title was far from smooth from the start, plagued by a hamstring injury sustained en route to the title in Adelaide this month.
The 35-year-old struggled physically in the early rounds but was dominant during his fourth round of Alex de Minaur and was once again brutal against Rublev.
“Playing the last two games against two guys who were in form and beating them dominantly in three sets is something I definitely want at the moment, something that sends a message to all my opponents,” he said. “With this kind of game, confidence rises, so I feel better on the field as the tournament progresses. I have been in this situation so many times in my life and career,” he added after reaching a 10th semi-final in Melbourne Park. Only Roger Federer (15) and Jack Crawford (11) have been there more often.
“I’ve never lost a semi-final at the Australian Open, hopefully it stays that way.”
After the game, Djokovic wished his mother Dijana Djokovic with a cute gesture on her birthday, which was Tuesday.
Watch: Djokovic wishes mom ‘happy birthday’ with a song on the pitch
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 25, 2023
The win for the red hot favorite took him to a 44th Grand Slam semifinal to close the gap on Federer’s all-time record 46. In another astonishing record, he posted a 26th consecutive Australian Open win, tying 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 contention with a 0-6 record in the Grand Slam quarterfinals. After a shaky start when he served a double fault to open proceedings, Djokovic quickly got into a rhythm.
The Russian Rublev, who also made a double fault at the start, had a hard time early on. His serving jitters continued and when the Serb worked a break point at 2-1, he double-faulted again in response. Djokovic showed no signs of hamstring problems to race to a 4-1 lead. He then converted a fifth break point in speed 5–1 clear to take the set in 39 minutes.
Rublev had no answers for his precision and power. Djokovic continued on the same footing in the second set, taking his chance in game four after a 16-shot rally as Rublev blinked first with a backhand error.
Another break left Rublev frustrated and berating himself as he fell back two sets. He took a bathroom break between sets, but it didn’t work, as Djokovic came out with more venomous shots and broke his serve in the opening game, never giving up.
Djokovic will meet Paul for the first time and the American is excited about the prospect of meeting the Serbian great in his first Grand Slam semifinal.
35th seed Paul will be a heavy underdog, but he struck a positive note. “I’m really excited, man. I probably have a better chance of winning if it’s Rublev, but playing against Novak here in Australia would be great,” said the 25-year-old American.
“Obviously he’s quite comfortable here in Australia. It’s going to be a challenging game. But I’m playing my best tennis.”
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