Roger Federer came out fighting on Thursday night, but lacked the firepower to deny Novak Djokovic a chance at his eighth Australian Open title.
In the 50th meeting of the two old foes, the big Serbian monstered Federer in all the key moments to win 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 6-3 and keep his perfect record in Australian Open semi-finals.
The world No.2 will meet either Dominic Thiem or Alexander Zverev in the final, with those two squaring off on Rod Laver Arena from 7.30pm on Friday.
The record now stands at 27-23 to 32-year-old Djokovic, with 11-6 in grand slam events, although 38-year-old Federer has not won a final against him since 2012 at Wimbledon.
It was the pair’s first meeting at a major since Djokovic fought back to beat Federer at Wimbledon last year.
Then Djokovic fought back from successive match points on Federer’s serve to steal the title.
On Thursday night, it was a different story, with Federer clearer struggling physically from the beginning, although he made the most of his early chance and at one stage led 5-2 in the first set.
Djokovic said he knew he had to hold the first set after Federer came out hard.
“It could have definitely gone a different way if he used those break points. He started off really well,” Djokovic said in his on court interview.
I was pretty nervous at the beginning. You know, I just want to say respect to Roger for coming out tonight. He was obviously hurt. He obviously was hurt and wasn’t at his best, even close to his best in terms of movement.
“It was probably not exactly the right mindset from my side at the beginning of the match.
“I was looking more at how he is moving, what he is doing, rather than executing my shots in the right way.
“It resulted with a 1-4 down and 0-40, you know, lead for him. I managed to kind of dig my way through back in the first set. It was very important to win that first set.
“Obviously [then I] mentally relaxed a little bit after that and could swing through the ball a little bit more.”
The first set went for more than an hour, the rest of the match only took another 76 minutes as Djokovic made the most of Federer’s injury difficulties, which emerged after his epic five-set win over Australia’s John Millman in the third round.
“With Roger, you know to expect a very high level of tennis. He’s going to come more often to the net, mix it up … put constant pressure on.
“Respect to Roger for coming out tonight, he was obviously hurt and wasn’t at his best.”
A record-breaking eighth Australian Open crown will take Djokovic to 17 major titles, well in sight of Federer on 20 and Rafael Nadal with 19.
It will be the Djokovics 26th grand slam decider.
Auntie Barty retreats to her family’s embrace
Taking solace in family, Ash Barty has looked to the positives after falling to American Sofia Kenin 7-6 (8-6) 7-5 in her semi-final at Rod Laver Arena.
“I didn’t feel super comfortable. I felt like my first plan wasn’t working. I couldn’t execute the way that I wanted. I tried to go to B and C,” Barty said.
“Unfortunately I couldn’t quite scrap enough to get over the line.”
Barty conceded four points in her first five service games, but then missed three break-point chances in the sixth game and wasted set points from 6-4 up in the tiebreaker.
“I’m two points away from winning that in straight sets, which is disappointing,” she said after falling short in her quest to become the first Australian woman to make an Open final since Wendy Turnbull in 1980.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing, but it’s been a hell of a summer. If you had told me three weeks ago that we would have won a tournament in Adelaide, made the semi-finals of the Australian Open, I’d take that absolutely every single day of the week.”
Kenin reversed her loss to Barty at last year’s French Open to advance to her maiden grand slam final against former world No.1 Garbine Muguruza who defeated Simona Halep 7-6 (8) 7-5.
“She is a top-10 player. After this week, she is (officially) a top-10 player. She deserves that respect and she deserves the recognition,” said Barty, refusing to blame the intense heat or the pressure of being the great home hope for her flat performance.
“It’s different at home, but I enjoyed the experience,” Barty said. “I love being out there. I’ve loved every minute of playing in Australia over the last month.”
Cradling her infant niece Olivia throughout the post-match press conference, the 23-year-old Barty said she needed to put her defeat in perspective.
“My sister just had her about 11, 12 weeks ago. Yeah, this is what life is all about. It’s amazing,” Barty said. “Perspective is a beautiful thing.
“Life is a beautiful thing. She brought a smile to my face as soon as I came off the court. I got to give her a hug. It’s all good.”
The clash jumper … a new battleground
Mention the AFL clash strips to an AFL traditionalist and watch their brain explode.
Inexplicably – well, for the marketing and TV types – the league forces clubs that have colours as different as yellow and red to change their strips when they play each other.
The battle has been lost in footy, but the debate rages on at the Australian Open, with Ash Barty and Sofia Kenin both turning out in exactly the same gear on Thursday.
Cue New York Times tennis doyen Christopher Clarey – putting aside grumpy traditionalist mode to support the tennis clash strip … and in this case, he might be right.
Hot, but not sweltering enough
The heat policy also made life difficult for Simone Halep in her loss to Garbine Muguruza, with the Romanian clearly less comfortable than the Spaniard in high-30s heat with the roof open at Rod Laver Arena.
Still, it was a close run thing, the Australian Open’s Heat Stress Scale peaked at 4.9 – which was just 0.1 below the highest rating, which would have prompted the RLA roof to close.
Doubling down on Australians
Max Purcell and Luke Saville have become the first all-Australian pair to qualify for the men’s doubles final in 22 years.
If they win on Sunday, they will be the first Australian pair to win the title in 23 years since Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge triumphed back in 1997.
Coming up Friday …
Women’s doubles final, 4pm
1-S. Hsieh/B. Strycova v
2-T. Babos/K. Mladenovic
Men’s semi-final, 7.30pm
5-D. Thiem v 7-A. Zverev