Novak Djokovic cruises past Roger Federer in Aussie Open semifinal

ByMatt Wilansky ESPN logo
Thursday, January 28, 2016

MELBOURNE, Australia -- In just a matter of days, Novak Djokovic went from toiling in an error-strewn existence to Mr. Clean.

The world No. 1 held off a late charge from Roger Federer, winning 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 to reach the Australian Open final once again.

In the fourth round, Djokovic committed an outrageous 100 errors against Gilles Simon, a match that left the Serb contemplating his chances to add to his five titles Down Under. Then, two days ago, he wasn't much crisper versus Kei Nishikori.

But Thursday against the third-ranked Federer, Djokovic played tidy tennis for much of their 2-hour, 19-minute matchup, finishing with 33 winners and only 20 misfires.

"In the end of the day you are battling yourself the most," Djokovic said of his turnaround. "There are so many players out there that are hitting the ball well.

"Whether or not you're able to cope with the pressure in these particular moments, fighting against some of the best players in the world for the major trophy, you know, of course there's a lot at stake. Emotions are going up and down. It's important to keep it together."

Djokovic's message was clear from the start against Federer: The 10-time major champion won 12 of the first 14 points en route to a two-set lead in just 54 minutes.

The world No. 1 had outrun, outhit and outplayed Federer in every facet of the game. In fact, the match was so lopsided after the first two sets that the savvy on-site research staff was forced to scramble through the record books to put this encounter in perspective in case the third was a blowout. Some of the numbers that were considered:

  • Most lopsided result in their 14 career head-to-head Grand Slam clashes
  • Most lopsided Australian Open and Grand Slam semifinals between any players
  • Federer's fewest games won in 352 career Grand Slam matches
  • Federer's fewest games won against Djokovic in Grand Slam play

"Well, I've had matches where I've played similar tennis," Djokovic said. "But 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.

"I've had some moments against him in sets where I've played on a high level, but this was, yeah, I think 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 'til the end."

But the third was a different story. At 3-2, Federer converted his fourth break point of the game, which sent the mostly subdued crowd into a frenzy.

Federer held on to take the set, but just as he had sunk his teeth into the match, play was halted to close the roof over Rod Laver Arena as inclement weather approached. Federer protested, but to no avail.

In the fourth, they played the point of the match. Off a Federer drop shot, Djokovic made a beeline to the net, lobbing the ball back over Federer's head. The Swiss sprinted back and hit a return lob of his own. Djokovic then smashed an overhead only to see Federer crush a running, down-the-line, backhand winner.

Two points later, however, Federer was broken for the final time and that was essentially it.

"I've seen Novak play this well before," Federer said. "It's tough when it's from the start because obviously you got to try to stop the bleeding at some point, you know. Because he returns very well, like Andre Agassi. He can get one or two sets all of a sudden. Those sets run away very quickly."

Coming in, the stats suggested this match would be a dead heat. They had split their 44 previous encounters, and last season, although the Serb won both their Grand Slam encounters, Federer handed him three of his six losses.

Further, Federer had played far crisper tennis through the first five rounds, losing only one set and had spent more than three hours less on the court.

But playing perhaps the greatest returner of all time, Federer could not dictate play on his own service games, especially his second serve, of which he won only 21 of 43 points.

Federer is now winless in his past 14 Grand Slam events, extending the longest drought of his career.

"Of course I wanted to do well," Federer said. "Of course I had a game plan. Of course I had ideas what I should do. I couldn't quite get it done. Maybe parts of my game, maybe parts of his game just matched up in a tough way."

As for Djokovic, he is on to his fifth consecutive major final and 19th overall, a number good enough for third place all time behind Federer (27) and Rafael Nadal (20).

Djokovic now awaits the winner of Friday's other semifinal between No. 2 Andy Murray and No. 8 Milos Raonic.

"Tomorrow's match is going to be interesting to watch," Djokovic said. "Being in the finals and watching the other semifinals, of course it's quite a joyful feeling. Whoever wins, I'm going to be ready for the great battle."

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