Melbourne, Jan 25 Novak Djokovic is picking up steam at the sharp end of his most successful Grand Slam, an ominous sign for the rest of the field.
Djokovic raced into a 10th semifinal at the Australian Open on Wednesday night, charging past Andrey Rublev 6-1 6-2 6-4 under the lights in breezy Melbourne.
Djokovic’s trademark returns punished Rublev, as did his change of direction and countering from the baseline. And when pushed on serve, Djokovic often responded with unreturnable serves – including second-serve aces.
The performance came after Djokovic overcame Australia’s Alex de Minaur in similarly overpowering fashion in the round of 16.
The thick tape on Djokovic’s upper left leg could be a constant at AO 23; the strapping was there again.
Rublev’s laser-like groundstrokes figured to test Djokovic’s hamstring because of the quick bursts required to counter such strikes.
However, Djokovic often dictated himself.
Rublev almost dropped serve in his first service game but did so in his next service game from 40-15, double-faulting long.
Djokovic broke open the set with another break, and perhaps it relaxed him a tad too much.
He faced his first two break points at 5-1. To the frustration of Rublev, two fine first serves quashed the danger.
Djokovic repeated the trick early in the second when behind 15-30 and thwarted a break chance at 3-2 with yet another potent delivery.
However, Rublev earned a second opportunity, and this time benefited from a second serve with less pace. But Djokovic defended, then capped a 15-shot rally with a forehand winner and huge roar.
It was all going wrong for Rublev. He wears his heart on his sleeve and is humourous in his dealings with reporters, which make him likeable. But reasons to smile were few and far between against Djokovic.
He took out his frustration when ripping a forehand return as Djokovic opted to sprinkle in a serve and volley on a first set point at 40-15. It was one of three straight forehand winners, but Djokovic would save a break point with, predictably, a winner.
A dumped forehand volley helped Djokovic to break to start the third, and that was it, AO reported.
Djokovic meets maiden Grand Slam semifinalist Tommy Paul on Friday for the first time. Paul, ranked 35th, narrowly missed a seeding; the American won his quarterfinal in four sets over compatriot Ben Shelton earlier on Wednesday.
However, Paul is up against Djokovic who has never lost a semifinal or final at the Australian Open.