Djokovic Dominates and Moves Into Australian Open Semifinals
MELBOURNE, Australia — Facing one of the best servers in the game, the top-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia turned in an untouchable performance.
Djokovic beat the eighth-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-2 on Wednesday evening in the Australian Open quarterfinals, and he did not face a single break point on his serve the entire match.
In the Friday night semifinal match, Djokovic will face the fourth-seeded Stan Wawrinka, who beat Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (6) on Wednesday afternoon.
Djokovic has served dominantly throughout his first five matches in Melbourne, and he has only been broken once in 73 service games (on a double fault on break point in his second-round rout of Andrey Kuznetsov of Russia). More known for his returning and rallying skills than his serving prowess, Djokovic said his new coach, Boris Becker, could be credited with some of the improvement on that shot, which was the German champion’s forte.
“Serve was one of the tasks, one of the things that we wanted to improve,” Djokovic said of his work with Becker. “I know I can’t serve as fast as Milos, but I’m trying to use the angles, the accuracy, align myself to have some free points with that serve. That’s what I used well during this 10 days now so far.”
The fifth-seeded Nishikori trailed Wawrinka by two sets and was behind 6-1 in the third set tiebreaker before he saved five consecutive match points to level the score at 6-6, sending the resigned crowd into unlikely excitement. But with Wawrinka pinned behind the baseline on the next point, Nishikori’s attempted drop shot on Wednesday hit the bottom of the net tape and slid down onto his own side of the court, sending his coach, Michael Chang, similarly slumping into his seat.
The error gave Wawrinka, of Switzerland, a sixth match point at 7-6, which he converted with an ace for a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (6) victory and a spot in the semifinals.
“I’m still nervous,” Wawrinka, the defending champion in Melbourne, said in his on-court interview after his narrow escape against Nishikori, the first Asian man to break the top five of the ATP rankings in singles.
“I was really happy because I was not going to get to that ball,” Wawrinka said of the failed drop shot in his news conference. “Yeah, I had the wind with me, so it was not easy to make a drop shot, especially at that moment. No, it was a crazy tiebreak, but good tiebreak. Good to finish in three sets.”
After his run to the final of the United States Open last year, which included a five-set win over Wawrinka in the quarterfinals, many thought Nishikori was poised to move one step further at this tournament. Still, he said he believed that reaching the last eight of this tournament was a strong result.
“It’s not easy, come quarterfinal Grand Slams,” he said. “I have to keep doing this. I mean, I could be better. But, you know, I think I need, kind of, this experience, playing tough all the time, playing a lot of matches. Especially Grand Slam, there is more pressure. I don’t know — you get more experience on Grand Slams, I think.”
Plenty of fans from Nishikori’s native Japan, many in face paint and kimonos, flocked to Rod Laver Arena to watch him at a tournament that has called itself the “Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific.” But it was Wawrinka who looked at home from the start, taking early break leads in each of the second and third sets and overpowering Nishikori consistently, especially with his serve. Wawrinka won 86 percent of points in the match on his first serve and struck 20 aces to Nishikori’s six.
Over all, he hit twice as many winners as Nishikori, 46 to 23. Wawrinka, who is trying to defend a Grand Slam title for the first time in his career, said he believed his game was even better than it was here last year, when he beat Djokovic and Rafael Nadal en route to his first major title.
“I think I play better, but I think we all improve every year,” Wawrinka said. “I’m more aggressive. I’m more confident with my game when I come to the net. Again, it’s a Grand Slam. You play every two days. Today was a great level, was a great match. Now I’m going to enjoy a little bit, watch who’s going to win tonight and get ready for the semifinal.”
Wawrinka and Djokovic have played grueling five-setters each of the previous two years in Melbourne, with Djokovic prevailing 12-10 in the fifth set in the fourth round in 2013, and Wawrinka avenging that loss with a 9-7 edge in the fifth set in the quarterfinals last year.
“You know when you play Novak, especially in a semifinal in a Grand Slam, you have to play your best game,” Wawrinka said. “You have to play your best tennis if you want to push him. So far, I’m playing great. I’m confident with my game. I’m happy I won in three sets today. Let’s see.”
Djokovic, who also won in five sets against Wawrinka in the semifinals of the 2013 United States Open, said he was prepared for another grueling match.
“I’m ready for the battle,” he said. “When we played last three Grand Slam matches, they were the finals stages of a Grand Slam, semifinals, quarterfinals. Grand Slams are the tournaments where you want to perform your best. I’m sure we both are very much aware of that fact, and it’s why we get to play on a high level against each other and we push each other to the limit, in a way.”
Djokovic said he would watch the footage of his loss to Wawrinka last year here, which he has not previously brought himself to revisit.
“Probably now is the time,” he said, grimacing playfully. “I will not watch the last point of that match. Everything else is fine.”