Ruthless Djokovic On Brink Of Australian Open History
Serbian to meet in-form 2009 champion Nadal in Sunday's blockbuster final
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic moved to within one victory of breaking a tie with Roy Emerson and Roger Federer for the most Australian Open singles titles on Friday night in a ruthless performance against first-time major semi-finalist Lucas Pouille, the No. 28 seed from France.
Djokovic, who will look to clinch his seventh crown at Melbourne Park for his 15th major championship overall, won the first seven games of his 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Pouille in 83 minutes on Rod Laver Arena. The Serbian star committed just fiveunforced errors and won 45 of his 53 service points.
“Today was a perfect match for me from the first to the last point,” said Djokovic. “I executed everything that I intended to and even more than I had expected.”
The 31-year-old Djokovic will now attempt to improve upon his 27-25 FedEx ATP Head2Head record against 17-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal, seven years on from beating the Spaniard in the 2012 Australian Open final over five hours and 53 minutes. Djokovic leads 18-7 in their hard-court matches, but Nadal is 9-5 at the major championships (4-3 in finals).
Djokovic, who admitted to watching Nadal’s semi-final win over Stefanos Tsitsipas on Thursday night, admitted, “He has played impressively well throughout the entire tournament. He hasn't dropped a set. He looked as good as ever on a hard court throughout these couple of weeks. I haven't played bad myself [in the] last couple of matches. I think that this final comes at the right time for both of us. I'm sure we're going to have a blast on the court.
“He's my biggest rival in my career. I've played so many matches against him, epic matches on this court. Of course, the one that stands out was the finals of almost six hours in 2012. Hopefully, we don't go that long this time. But I'm sure we're going to have a good final.”
In 2016, Djokovic equalled the record of six Australian Open titles after beating Andy Murray in the final. He also lifted the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup in 2008 (d. Tsonga), 2011 (d. Murray), 2012 (d. Nadal), 2013 and 2015 (d. Murray both times).
Pouille came under the hammer immediately, double faulting to gift Djokovic his opening service game after saving two break points. The Frenchman appeared to be overpowered by greater weight of shot in longer rallies, and any error meant that the pressure mounted. Consecutive forehand errors handed Djokovic a second break of serve, and it wasn’t until the Serbian served for the set in the sixth game that he made his first error, striking a backhand drop shot into the net. Ruthless Djokovic kept Pouille on the edge, striking 11 winners and losing just three of his first-service points.
Pouille, who lost five straight first rounds at the Australian Open prior to this year, remained nervous, and, as a result, his movement became impaired. With four-and-a-half more hours of tennis in his legs at Melbourne Park this year — 15 hours, seven minutes for Pouille to Djokovic’s 10 hours, 36 minutes coming in — the greatest cheer came after 31 minutes, when Pouille got himself on the board to break a seven-game streak for Djokovic. The pressure to survive for Pouille was relentless. He double faulted once more to gift his opponent the third game of the second set, and Djokovic later broke for a fifth time to win the longest game of the match after 57 minutes.
It was one-way traffic in the third set as Djokovic broke in the fourth game, roaring in excitement as Pouille hit a forehand into the net. The Serbian completed one of his best matches on Rod Laver Arena when Pouille struck a backhand into the net to improve to 67-8 lifetime at Melbourne Park.
“As you can imagine, it’s not easy,” said Pouille. “I was trying to find a solution, but couldn't find any. I think his first mistake came after maybe one set. If I wanted to get closer or arrive at the end of one set [at] 4-4, I [would have] had to serve [at] 90 per cent or 100 per cent first serve… I think he just played amazing. He was too good today.
“I didn't have time to put a strategy into the match. The strategy was to be aggressive, try to be the one who [was] leading the point. But when he's playing that far from the baseline, 10 centimetres from the baseline all the time, it's tough to do it.” Read Pouille Reaction
Former World No. 1- Pouille is projected to rise to No. 17 in the ATP Rankings, when the new lists are published on Monday. The 24-year-old had been attempting to become the fourth Frenchman to reach the Australian championship final — after Jean Borotra, the 1928 champion, and runners up Arnaud Clement in 2001 and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2008.