Sublime Djokovic crushes Federer
With as flawless an hour of tennis as has ever been produced, Novak Djokovic surged a step closer to a record-equalling sixth Australian Open title with a compelling four-set vanquishing of Roger Federer.
The Swiss refused to be cowed by the pummelling he received during the first two stunningly one-sided sets, stirring rapture in the crowd with his third-set riposte, but he was ultimately powerless to deny a world No 1 who has never looked so supreme.
On this evidence, and his health permitting, one should stake the house on Djokovic completing a calendar grand slam in 2016 - an accomplishment of which Stan Wawrinka deprived him by a fraction last year.
There is nobody even remotely close. He now holds a winning record against all his fellow members of the 'big four' in Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.
Federer had been swatting adversaries of the calibre of Grigor Dimitrov and Tomas Berdych for fun in Melbourne, but this was an evening when he was schooled by the sport's bionic man.
Murray has the chance to face him in the final for a second straight year, should he overcome Canada's Milos Raonic this morning, but it is hardly a task he will approach with relish. A yawning chasm has opened up at the top of the men's game.
It had threatened to be an evisceration, the like of which Federer in his pomp has suffered only twice before, in the finals of the 2008 French Open and the London Olympics in 2012. On those occasions, he could use either glandular fever or sheer exhaustion as excuses. Here, the only explanation as Djokovic hared to a two-set lead within 54 minutes was the top seed's impeccable play.
One measure of his brilliance was to compare this masterclass with his fourth-round match against Gilles Simon, where he committed 100 unforced errors. In the opening two sets against Federer, he was guilty of a measly six.
"I played an unbelievable first two sets, but that's what necessary against Roger," he said after wrapping up a 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory, as a crestfallen Federer sloped off court. "I came out with great intensity and executed everything perfectly."
Such was the filleting, even Federer's usual mask of inscrutability slipped at one stage. "Get out of my face, please," he snapped at one cameraman.
At least the third set was different, pivoting on a monumental sixth game, more than 10 minutes long, in which Federer needed to channel every drop of invention and audacity to break Djokovic. He might be 34, but there are still few so fleet of foot.
Rejuvenated by rare glimpses of Djokovic fallibility, he scampered across court to intercept an apparently perfect drop-volley and flicked it cross-court for a winner. Naturally, he capitalised on the next point to seize an advantage for the first time.
Hawk-Eye was tormenting him, mind. When Djokovic challenged, just as Federer looked to have converted his second set-point with an ace, the ball was shown to be out by a fraction of an inch. Federer shook his head.
Finally, he set up a fourth set with a mighty serve. A few sploshes of rain briefly stalled his momentum, as the roof across the arena was closed. But his surge of inspiration withstood the delay - never more tellingly illustrated than by a glorious backhand winner up the line as he toiled to stay on serve.
Where, he was asked, would he rank that effort in his canon of greatest shots? "Top 100," he replied, deadpan.
His fist-pump for the spectators suggested it was a turning point, but Djokovic would have none of it. Two rapier groundstrokes sealed the decisive break. Serving out the match to love, he turned to coach Boris Becker in salute.
Chalk up this as another night for the Federer romantics. An 18th Major title will remain elusive, however, in the face of one insurmountable Serbian roadblock. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Serena ignores record
Serena Williams insists she is blocking out all thoughts of equalling Steffi Graf’s grand slam record as she prepares to face Germany’s Angelique Kerber in the Australian Open final.
Victory against Kerber would draw Williams level with Graf’s Open-era best 22 major titles while taking her own tally of Melbourne triumphs to five. She is currently third in the all-time list after moving three clear of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova’s 18 but she remains short of Australian Margaret Court, who is out in front on 24.
“I definitely block it out,” Williams said. “I was one off last year too. If I don’t win on Saturday, I’ll still be one off. It took me forever to get to 18. I was so stressed out. I don’t want to relive that at all.”
Williams threatened to embarrass her semi-final opponent Agnieszka Radwanska yesterday, annihilating the Pole 6-0 in a first set that took just 20 minutes. She went on to win the second set 6-4 and is yet to drop a set so far in the tournament.