Novak Djokovic underscored his mastery of Roger Federer, the men's field, and Melbourne Park in qualifying for his sixth Australian Open final.
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Djokovic through to final
Roger Federer's late comeback was not enough as Novak Djokovic beats the Swiss legend for the 23rd time.
At one stage, Federer seemed to be headed for the heaviest grand slam hiding of his career, having conceded the opening two sets in 54 minutes, only to salvage the occasion by a spirited insurrection in the third set.
Djokovic duly prevailed 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 and qualified for the final in which he holds a 5-0 record. Should he defeat either Andy Murray or Milos Raonic on Sunday – and who would bet against him? – he will be the clear standard bearer for the Melbourne Park chapter of this event.
Djokovic, in the likely event he retains the title, will also have the opportunity to claim a non-calendar grand slam at the French Open; he has won four of the past five majors, and seems at least as supreme a No.1 as Federer was at his absolute zenith.
He will equal Australian Roy Emerson, who won six Australian Opens, albeit Emerson's were won in a less globally competitive era of grass, serve and volley and Aussie dominance.
"I feel that I'm at the peak of my career," Djokovic said after the match. "And I'm trying to cherish every moment on the court."
The opening two sets were astonishing. Djokovic has seldom been so impregnable, Federer so helpless. Federerologists must have been reaching for the record books, checking if Rafael Nadal had ever beaten him as comprehensively at the French Open.
But Federer didn't win 17 majors by meekly submitting. His third set resurrection – unexpected, until you remembered that this was Federer – was inspiring. He at first turned a rout into an arm wrestle, gradually discovering his range on serve and especially the forehand.
The match reached a new peak when Federer rose up to finally break Djokovic in the sixth game of the set. He would serve it out, claiming the set in a 45-minute grapple that was more like the tennis everyone had anticipated.
Djokovic at Melbourne Park is approaching Nadal at Roland Garros in terms of degree of difficulty; the surface is slow enough that he can get almost any ball back, but not so sluggish that patient clay courters can compete with the Djoker's superior power.
One statistic that mattered: Djoker won 70 baseline points to 28. Federer wasn't allowed to be aggressive.
Djokovic broke Federer in the second game, sprinting to a 3-0 led before the crowd had settled. The opening set took 22 minutes – in the five-hour-plus Djokovic-Nadal final of 2012 there was a game that lasted about that length.
The second set, too, was completed at Twenty20 pace. Federer struggled to hold serve in the first game, then was swept 6-2 in 32 minutes.
The match was played entirely on Djokovic's terms in the opening sets. He owned the back court, and Federer was unable to compete in anything resembling a rally. Federer's famous forehand was off-key, his serve lacked bite and on the rare occasions when he went forward towards the net, he was usually passed.
Djokovic was in ball machine mode – watching it, you wondered how Federer would win games, much less a set. "Personally, I played unbelievably the first two sets," Djokovic said. "But that's what's necessary against Roger."
While Federer's rally redeemed the match, he had little margin for mishap. Djokovic had hardly dropped off and he would break at 4-3 despite Federer winning the signature point of the match, in which he recovered to chase down a lob over his head and hit a winner.
Djokovic served it out to claim the fourth set, the match and another finals berth. Whether it's Murray, as most favour, or Raonic, the opponent will need to bring their A-plus game and hope for a Djokovic stumble.