Novak Djokovic outclasses Roger Federer
Serb makes record sixth final in Melbourne
Will face either Andy Murray or Milos Raonic
For so long Roger Federer has dished out punishment in some of the biggest matches in tennis.
A few times it’s happened in the Australian Open semifinals.
In 2007 he pummeled Andy Roddick at a time when the American probably thought he could finally get the better of the Swiss at a major.
Then in 2010, Federer needed a mere 90 minutes to dispatch Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
But on Thursday at the year’s first major, it was Federer taking the punishment for much of the affair.
Indeed the manner of his defeat by Novak Djokovic, or at least the first two sets, brought back memories of the 2008 French Open final when the 17-time grand slam champion managed to claim four games against Rafael Nadal.
In giving Federer the run around – winning 6-1 6-2 3-6 6-3 at Rod Laver Arena – Djokovic became the first man in the Open Era to make six Australian Open finals. Remarkably Sunday’s showpiece will be the Serb’s 17th straight final.
The bad news for the other two semifinalists who play Friday, Andy Murray and Milos Raonic? Djokovic is a perfect 5-0 in those Australian Open finals.
“Against Roger, these first two sets have been probably the best two sets I’ve played against him overall throughout my career,” Djokovic told reporters.
They call the Australian Open the “Happy Slam.” The top-ranked Djokovic, on course for an 11th major, won’t take issue with that.
When discussing tactics against Nadal and Djokovic, Federer has said he needs to make more adjustments against the Spaniard, who perennially troubles the Swiss megastar by hitting a heavily spun forehand to his one-handed backhand.
Federer, by contrast, feels he can play free and essentially in his usual attacking manner against the Serb. He’s in his comfort zone more.
Though not on Thursday as Djokovic sizzled in a clash that started outdoors but ended indoors thanks to rain, to back up his victories over Federer in the U.S. Open and Wimbledon finals in 2015.
And in improving to 23-22 lifetime against the 34-year-old Federer, Djokovic also now possesses a winning record against all three of his fellow “Big Four” members.
Federer, though, was adamant he could at some stage get the better of Djokovic at a major.
“I can run for four or five hours,” he said. “It’s not a problem. I prove it in practice again in the off-season, no problem. So from that standpoint I’m not worried going into long rallies.
“I know you guys make it a different case. I get that, because you think I’m old and all that. But it’s no problem for me.”
The first two sets lasted a quick 54 minutes. Djokovic committed only six unforced errors, a far cry from the 100 he charitably delivered against Frenchman Gilles Simon in the fourth round.
His early form Thursday mimicked women’s No. 1 Serena Williams, who eased past Agnieszka Radwanska earlier to land in the women’s final, where she will battle Angelique Kerber.
Simon, it must be said, is a counterpuncher whose game is to make the opponent miss. He did it with aplomb, though Djokovic escaped in a fifth set.
Djokovic is repeatedly mentioned when pondering the game’s best returners and Federer was especially troubled the first two sets.
“He returns very well, like Andre Agassi,” Federer said, referring to the former No. 1 who stifled foes with his flat ground strokes. “He can get one or two sets all of a sudden. Those sets run away very quickly.”
Besides the return, Djokovic was untouchable on his serve, facing break points in one game.
Djokovic prevailing in the first set was not in the script for Federer, since he had only ever beaten his younger rival once from that hole, and he knew it.
“I know how important the first set is against Novak, especially at this time when he’s world No. 1,” he said. “When he gets on a roll it’s tough to stop.”
Djokovic was 153-1 after winning the first two sets so the task became almost impossible for Federer. Yet he didn’t surrender in the third.
He saved a break point at 2-2 and broke on his fourth chance in the sixth game. The crowd, behind Federer, lapped it up.
Then the rain came, probably at the wrong time for Federer.
Following a delay of roughly 15 minutes, Federer nonetheless led 30-0 on the Djokovic serve in the first game of the fourth. He didn’t get another return back in play in the game.
The eighth game, when Djokovic registered the pivotal break, was breathtaking as the Serb ripped returns and shots from the baseline.
It will be of minor consolation to Federer that he won the point of the match, retrieving one ball after another before stroking a backhand down the line.
Then staring at break point, he came in on a second serve. Risky. But it had worked in spurts. Djokovic was this time ready, crunching a return to Federer’s feet.
He served it out impeccably and can now look ahead to Sunday.
Djokovic has toppled the world No. 2 Murray in three previous Australian Open finals, including last year. He has never lost to Raonic, the big-serving Canadian, in five matches.
It all points to yet another successful stay for Djokovic in Melbourne.