MELBOURNE—As title contenders fall by the wayside at Melbourne Park, Novak Djokovic’s march to a 22nd Grand Slam crown carries an air of inevitability, with American first-time semi-finalist Tommy Paul next in the super Serbian’s crosshairs on Friday.
Fourth seed Djokovic, seeking a record-extending 10th Australian Open title, has been in dominant form in his return to the country, a year after being deported on the eve of last year’s tournament for not being vaccinated against COVID-19.
The biggest threat to his campaign so far has been a hamstring injury, which he suffered en route to winning the warm-up title in Adelaide.
Djokovic was at his devastating best in statement wins over Alex de Minaur in the fourth round and Andrey Rublev in the quarter-finals and he said those remaining in the men’s draw should take notice.
“Playing against two guys that are really good, in-form players, to beat them dominantly in three sets is something that I want in this moment, something that sends a message to all my opponents remaining in the draw,” Djokovic said.
Having equalled Andre Agassi’s 26-match Australian Open win streak to reach his 44th Grand Slam semi-final and sit two behind 20-times major champion Roger Federer in the all-time list, the 35-year-old Djokovic said he was still improving.
“I feel good on court, better and better as the tournament progresses,” Djokovic said. “I’ve been in this situation so many times in my life, in my career, I’ve never lost a semi-final at the Australian Open. Hopefully that will stay the same.”
Hoping to flip the script is Paul, who outclassed fellow unseeded American Ben Shelton to become only the third active U.S. male player to have made the last four of a Grand Slam alongside John Isner and Frances Tiafoe.
Paul’s progress is testament to the steady rise of American men’s tennis, with 10 players set to be in the ATP top 50 on Monday following a superb run at Melbourne Park, where the likes of holder Rafa Nadal, Daniil Medvedev and Casper Ruud went out early.
But the 25-year-old hopes to go further.
“It’s important to me,” said Paul, the first American man to reach the Australian Open semis since Andy Roddick in 2009. “We all want it pretty bad for ourselves, but we want it for U.S. tennis, too.”
Stefanos Tsitsipas will make his fourth appearance in the semi-finals at the Australian Open when he takes on revitalised Russian Karen Khachanov.
The third-seeded Greek is a crowd favourite at Melbourne Park and has been ruthlessly efficient so far, winning four out of his five matches in straight sets—including a comfortable victory over unheralded Czech Jiri Lehecka in the quarters.
“It’s great to be back in the semi-finals,” Tsitsipas said.
“Of course, I’m definitely happy with the way I’ve been playing. I’m looking ahead for more, for better. I’m looking to create some magical experiences here in Australia.”
Khachanov will be slightly fresher of the two after going through to the semis when his American opponent Sebastian Korda retired from their quarter-final due to a wrist injury.
“This time it’s different because I’m physically also, after pre-season, feeling really good so far,” U.S. Open semi-finalist Khachanov said.
“I haven’t had long matches, so it’s different, it can be three also in the semis. But coming into it I’ll be in physically better shape.”