Djokovic Reaches Sixth Australian Open Final
Serb holds off Federer in four sets
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is through to his sixth Australian Open final after producing a masterful display to defeat Roger Federer 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 on Thursday night in Melbourne.
The Serb will face the winner of Friday night’s semi-final between Andy Murray and Milos Raonic as he bids to win his 11th Grand Slam championship. Djokovic has won the title at Melbourne Park in four of the past five years, with that reign only interrupted by Stan Wawrinka in 2014.
Djokovic v Federer highlights courtesy AusOpen.com
"I played unbelievable in the first two sets," Djokovic told Jim Courier in the on-court interview. "It was necessary against Roger, who was playing at a very high level during this tournament, only dropping one set. I knew he would be aggressive.
"I came out with the right intensity and executed everything perfectly. The two-set lead was comforting, but it was a battle in the end. At the end of the day, it's important that your convictions are stronger than your doubts."
Djokovic could barely put a foot wrong in a dazzling first-set display. The Serb committed just two unforced errors, compared to 12 from Federer. Federer elected to receive first, after winning the coin toss, and after starting on the front foot, Djokovic never looked back. The Belgrade native broke in Federer's first service game and lost only one point behind his first serve as he raced through the opener.
Federer tried to halt Djokovic’s momentum at the start of the second set, saving a break point to hold serve with a roar. But Djokovic didn’t flinch. In Federer’s following service game, the Serb broke to love and then a break to 15 in the fifth game all but sealed a two-set lead.
At the end of the second set, Djokovic had won 88 per cent of points (22 from 25) behind his first serve, and punished Federer’s second serve points won tally of just 26 per cent (5 from 19). Having committed an astounding 100 unforced errors in a five-set tussle with Gilles Simon in the fourth round, Djokovic made just six errors in the first two sets against Federer, compared to 22 from the Swiss. In a show of dominance, Djokovic won almost twice as many points as Federer (52 to 27) and did not face a break point.
But 17-time Grand Slam champions do not go away quietly. Federer saved a break point in the fifth game before going on the attack in Djokovic’s service game. With the majority of the crowd on Rod Laver Arena urging him on, the Swiss was thwarted on his first four break points of the match, but not on his fifth.
Federer engineered the opportunity by belying his 34 years to chase down a near-impossible get and dinking a forehand winner past Djokovic. He then converted by attacking Djokovic’s backhand corner with a rifled forehand. A nervy service hold in the ninth game saw him claw his way back into the match. Federer improved behind his second serve, winning seven of eight points, and hit 16 winners to just six from Djokovic.
The match was delayed at the end of the third set as the roof was closed due to a forecast of imminent rain. Djokovic kept his nose in front serving first at the resumption and the pressure ultimately told for Federer in the eighth game. At 15/30, the Swiss produced one of the points of the tournament as he chased down a Djokovic lob, then a smash, then a short volley to find the line with a remarkable backhand pass. But it would be the last point he won in the contest.
Djokovic opened up a 30/40 lead with a forehand pass that clipped the top of the net and went over Federer's racquet and then converted the break as he ripped a forehand return to the net-rushing Federer’s feet. A service hold to love saw him claim victory in two hours and 19 minutes.
"I think against Roger, these first two sets have been probably the best two sets I've played against him overall I think throughout my career," said Djokovic. "I've had some moments against him in sets where I've played on a high level, but this was a different level than from before. I'm just very, very pleased that I was able to perform the way I did from the very beginning till the end.
"It's not always possible to play this way. You strive to be the best you can be. When you're playing one of your top rivals, somebody of Roger's résumé, of course it requires a lot of focus, determination, and a different preparation for that match-up than most of the other matches. So that's why I came out with I think a great deal of self-belief and confidence and intensity, concentration. I played flawless tennis for first two sets, no doubt about it.
"I knew that if I dropped my level or concentration or allowed myself to get distracted by anything that he would take the first opportunity, jump on me, and just take the lead of the rallies," continued Djokovic. "That's what he has done in the third. He just waits for a little drop from his opponent. That's why he's been so successful throughout his career.
"But I was aware of that before the match, so psychologically I did not allow myself to have big oscillations. Of course, there was a lot of excitement from the crowd, as well, towards the end of the third set. Then of course they got into it. It was a great atmosphere. But I've played in these particular situations before, and managed to use that experience."
Since the start of the US Open, Djokovic has been nigh on unstoppable. The right-hander has compiled a 37-1 match record, with his only defeat coming to Federer in the round robin stage of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals – he would beat the Swiss when they met again in the final later that week. In that spell, Djokovic has gone 16-1 against Top 10 opponents.
The 28-year-old Djokovic won three of the four majors last year and was only denied the calendar Grand Slam by an inspired display from Wawrinka in the Roland Garros final. The Serb is looking to add to the Australian Open titles he won in 2008 (d. Tsonga), 2011 (d. Murray), 2012 (d. Nadal), 2013 (d. Murray) and 2015 (d. Murray).
Federer fell in the semi-finals in Melbourne for the fifth time in the past six years. The Basel native is a four-time champion Down Under, last hoisting the trophy in 2010 with victory over Andy Murray. The 34 year old was looking to win his first Grand Slam title since the 2012 Wimbledon crown this week.
"He definitely maybe dropped his level of play just ever so slightly [in the third set]," said Federer. "But that's all it takes. It's not easy to keep playing the way he was playing. You can't read all the serves all the time. I started to get a few more free points. I started to get more opportunities on his service games, as well.
"Margins are small out there. Even in a match like tonight where the first two sets run away. You can't get discouraged. You have to keep going, stay aggressive. I think my game started to come more and more.
"My rhythm, my timing, all that, was a bit off in the beginning. He took advantage of that and did an unbelievable job for a long, long time tonight."