MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic was about as perfect as can be in his semi-final at Rod Laver Arena. Didn’t miss much. Almost couldn’t, really.
It was a performance so flawless, so fantastic, that it was easy to feel as if only one man on the planet might have a chance of preventing Djokovic from claiming a record seventh Australian Open title: Rafael Nadal. As it happens, that is who he’ll face in Sunday’s final.
Djokovic never relented, not for a moment, while making an unheard-of total of five unforced errors against an overmatched Lucas Pouille en route to a 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 semifinal victory that lasted less than an hour.
“I guess you’re driven by some force that takes over you, and you feel divine. You feel like in a different dimension,” Djokovic said. “It’s quite an awesome feeling that we all try to reach and stay in. Probably the biggest challenge, I think, is how to repeat that, how to stay there for as long as you possibly can.” This was as good as he gets. As good as it gets.
“When he’s playing like this,” the 28th-seeded Pouille said, “yeah, he’s the best in the world, for sure.”
A day after second seed Nadal conceded only six games to 20-year-old Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in their one-sided semi-final, Djokovic continued the next generation smack-down by coughing up only four.
Attacking the lines with machine-like precision, he broke the 28th-seeded Frenchman seven times yet never looked in danger of conceding a break point.
He struggled to remember whether he had played any better in his previous Melbourne semi-finals.
“It’s definitely one of the best matches I have ever had on this court, definitely. Everything worked the way I intended before the match,” said Djokovic, after Pouille netted meekly on a second match point.
The score would suggest it was Djokovic’s most dominant semi, just edging the 6-2 6-2 6-1 humiliation of David Ferrer in the 2013 tournament.
Bidding for his 15th Grand Slam title and a record seventh at Melbourne Park, Djokovic will meet Nadal in Sunday’s final seven years after edging him in a five hour 53-minute epic, the longest Grand Slam final on record.
Given how well both men are playing at the moment, this showdown shapes up as another potential classic.
“I would definitely want to buy the ticket for the match, for those who haven’t yet,” Djokovic quipped in his on-court interview. “That [2012 final] was a once in a life-time event and hopefully the outcome will be the same for me.”
The Serb ran Pouille ragged so effectively that he dished out a dreaded “bagel” in a first set that lasted just 21 minutes.
Pouille held his first service game of the second set to a huge ovation from the centre court fans, but it was an all-too brief respite.
Djokovic lost in the fourth round last year, followed by elbow surgery and poor form until he won Wimbledon and turned his season around.
“It was highly unlikely 12 months ago that I would be where I am today, a year later,” Djokovic said. “But I’ve said it before, and I always have plenty of belief in myself, and I think the self-belief is something that always prevails.”