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MELBOURNE, Australia – Novak Djokovic shrugged off controversy involving his father to reach a record-extending 10th Australian Open final with a 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 win over outgunned American Tommy Paul on Friday, January 27.
Nine-time champion Djokovic will meet third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s decider after the Greek booked his first final at Melbourne Park by beating Russian Karen Khachanov in the earlier semifinal.
Serbian Djokovic’s father Srdjan created a distraction for his son ahead of the semifinal after a video emerged showing him posing with fans holding Russian flags, which were banned at Melbourne Park early in the tournament.
With Srdjan declining to attend the semifinal for fear of creating further disruption for his son, fourth seed Djokovic was in a foul mood early at Rod Laver Arena and surrendered a 5-1 lead in the first set as unseeded Paul rallied to 5-5.
Djokovic then knuckled down.
In a furious counter-attack, he won 14 of the next 17 games to seal another one-sided victory in his bid for a 22nd Grand Slam title to match Rafa Nadal.
“I’m really thankful that I still have enough gas in my legs to play at this level on one of the biggest tennis courts in the world,” said Djokovic on court.
The run has given Paul a taste of the latter stages of a Slam which he hopes can become a regular feeling.
“I mean, great, great two weeks for me. Obviously got to carry it throughout the whole season. It’s about consistency. I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder,” Paul told reporters.
It was Paul’s first meeting with the 21-time Grand Slam champion and it was every bit as tough as he imagined.
“I mean, walking on the court was cool. Playing the match and getting beaten like that kind of sucked,” Paul said.
“But it’s great I got to see the level of where I want to be and know how good I have to play if I want to beat people like that. It was, I think, a good experience.
“He didn’t really let me execute any game plan.”
Djokovic dad drama
Amid criticism from local politicians and the Ukraine embassy, Srdjan Djokovic declined to attend the semifinal, saying he wanted to prevent “disruption” for his son.
For all that, a man in the terraces held up a Ukraine flag when Djokovic served in his direction and put it away when he swapped ends.
Whether or not his father’s absence was weighing on him, Djokovic was in a foul mood even as he raced to a 5-1 lead in the first set, repeatedly yelling at his players’ box in Serbian.
He bickered with the chair umpire over the time taken to get a towel between points, drawing loud jeers from fans.
Sensing his chance, Paul raised the pressure with some outstanding tennis, breaking the Serb twice and leveling the match at 5-5 after edging Djokovic in a 30-shot rally.
However, that was as good as it got for Paul, as Djokovic knuckled down to win 14 of the last 17 games in a stunning counter-attack 15 years to the day after his first Australian Open title as a 20-year-old.
“I know that without my family and my team, these things wouldn’t be possible,” said Djokovic.
Sunday’s decider will be a rematch of the 2021 French Open final, which Djokovic won from two sets down to leave the Greek heartbroken.
The winner will take the No. 1 ranking from Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz.
“I’d like that number,” said Tsitsipas. “It’s a cornerstone final… It’s a childhood dream to be capturing the No. 1 spot one day, I’m close.”
Tsitsipas can rely on a huge contingent of Greek fans to rival Djokovic’s army of Serbian supporters.
They were in full voice as he traded breaks with Khachanov in a see-sawing opening set before he came alive in the tiebreak.
Tsitsipas was rattled by three foot-faults and two time violations on serve but steadied to take the second set.
A break down in the third, Khachanov showed great courage to fight back to 5-5 and take the tiebreak after Tsitsipas blew two match points.
Tsitsipas regrouped, though, and roared to 3-0 in the last set before closing it out in dominant fashion. – Rappler.com