Melbourne, Jan 31:
Novak Djokovic paid “huge respect” to old rival Roger Federer Thursday after he swept past the ailing star and into a record eighth Australian Open final to move closer to his 17th Grand Slam crown.
In the 50th instalment of one of sport’s greatest rivalries, the Serb shrugged off a tentative start to reinforce his recent dominance, showing no mercy to the injury-hit Swiss maestro in a 7-6 (7-1), 6-4, 6-3 win.
Of the seven Melbourne finals Djokovic has made, he has won them all.
If any extra motivation was needed, winning on Sunday will see the Serb reclaim the number one ranking after Thiem sent Rafael Nadal packing in the last eight.
“It’s never easy to play Roger. I mean, obviously he was hurting. You could see it in his movement. Respect to him for trying his best,” said defending champion Djokovic, who is into his 26th Grand Slam final.
“After losing the first set, he got a medical (timeout). He came back and played all the way through. It’s unfortunate that he was not at his best.” It was the fourth time Djokovic had beaten Federer at the semi-final stage in Melbourne after doing the same in 2008, 2011 and 2016.
Federer, the 2018 champion, came into the match carrying a groin injury that he picked up in his five-set, come-from-behind quarter-final win against Tennys Sandgren.
He was seen around Melbourne Park before the match with tape on his upper right leg and there were even rumors that he might pull out.
But that is not in the 38-year-old’s nature – he has only ever given up four walkovers in his long career and has never retired in more than 1,500 matches, facts that Djokovic said were “amazing” and deserved “huge respect”.
Djokovic was clear favorite after beating the third seed in every Grand Slam meeting since Wimbledon 2012, but in their 50th career clash it was Federer who initially set Rod Laver Arena alight. Despite the disappointment, the Swiss great believes he is still a force to be reckoned with.
“Yes, I do believe that,” the world number three said, when asked he if he was confident about adding to his 20 Grand Slam titles.
“I think by having the year that I had last year, also with what I have in my game, how I’m playing, I do feel that, yeah.” Federer, who reached last year’s Roland Garros semi-finals and lost a five-set Wimbledon final to Djokovic, said he hopes to return to Melbourne in 2021 for a crack at a seventh title.
“You never know what the future holds. Especially my age, you don’t know,” he said.
“I’m confident. I’m happy how I’m feeling, to be honest. I got through a good, nice training block. No plans to retire. From that standpoint, we’ll see how the year goes, how everything is with the family. We’ll go from there. Of course, I hope to be back,” he said.