Novak Djokovic inched closer to a record-extending 10th Australian Open title after he overcame a sluggish start to defeat Tommy Paul 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals at Melbourne Park, here on Friday.
Djokovic’s two-hour and 20-minute win set up a championship match clash against Greek player Stefanos Tsitsipas, who earlier defeated Karen Khachanov 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3.
Sunday’s final will also be a straight shootout for No. 1 in the ATP Rankings, with the winner set to leapfrog Carlos Alcaraz into the top spot on Monday.
“I have strong memories of 15 years ago, but I wouldn’t have imagined things to have turned out like they have. I’m so blessed and grateful, marvelling and cherishing every moment,” Djokovic said after the match.
“My level is great, it’s perfect. It’s 110 percent. Stefanos, see you in two days! Of course, you’re not as fresh as in the beginning, but we put in a lot of hours throughout the off-season into fitness to be in a good enough condition to play best of five,” he added.
The Serbian struggled to find his best level at times during his maiden tour-level meeting with the American. Despite dropping four straight games from 5-1 to let Paul back into the opening set on Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic ultimately converted seven of 11 break points to move within one win of equalling Rafael Nadal’s tally of 22 major titles.
Djokovic was comfortable throughout the majority of his clash with Paul. The only exception was an uncharacteristic lapse in the first set, when Paul took advantage of a flurry of uncharacteristically wayward groundstrokes from the Serbian to recover a double-break deficit and level at 5-5.
In spite of hitting 24 unforced errors in the opening set, Djokovic regained his composure to claim it, with some clinical groundstrokes earning him a decisive break in the 12th game. He carried that momentum through to dominate the second and third sets, winning the first four games of both to deny his less-experienced opponent any opportunity to settle.
“I know what’s expected of me. Experience helps, but on court, moment to moment, it’s a great battle with yourself and your opponent. You can feel the long rallies; we both had heavy legs. I held my nerves at the end of the first set; that was a key moment where I started swinging through the ball more,” the Serbian added.