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Novak Djokovic overcame the absence of his father and a grumpy first set to outclass Tommy Paul and reach his 10th Australian Open final. And the Serbian superstar is now just one win away from equalling Rafa Nadal’s male record of 22 Grand Slam singles titles and returning to world No.1.
The nine-time champion is back Down Under after getting deported last year and he is also nursing a left hamstring strain. But the build-up to his 44th Grand Slam semi-final was overshadowed by footage of his father posing with a Russian nationalist wearing a Z T-shirt – and Srdjan Djokovic announced earlier today he would not attend this match in the Rod Laver Arena.
The No.4 seed raced to a 5-1 lead in the first set against American Paul before losing concentration and arguing with umpire Damien Dumusois. But the world No.35, who was playing his first Grand Slam semi-final, was not able to take advantage of Djokovic’s sloppy play and failed to take the big points.
And the nine-time champion recovered to win 7-5 6-1 6-2 to set up a Sunday showdown with Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas. He won 14 of the last 17 games. Djokovic had looked shaky in his opening service game and needed to save two break points before holding after seven minutes. He immediately broke Paul who needed 19 minutes to get his first game to trail 3-1.
In the sixth game with Djokovic leading 4-1, Paul won a long rally with a crosscourt drop shot and even Djokovic joined the applause of the crowd who wanted to see a contest. The Serb had a set point at 5-1 after only 35 minutes but hit his forehand into the net. He was then booed by fans for arguing with Dumusois over the Frenchman’s prompt starting of the shot clock.
Djokovic said: “Why did you start the clock? I haven’t got to the towel yet?” The chair umpire replied: “That’s not the way it works.”
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And the Wimbledon champion said: “The ball kids are not allowed to give me the towel. Tell me how it works. It’s the first time I’m going to the towel this game and you start the clock before I touch the towel. Well done!”
Djokovic failed to serve out the set at 5-3 and Paul held to draw the set level at 5-5. But with the American serving to force the tiebreak at 5-6, he framed a forehand long and hit an inside-out forehand into the tramlines to give the Serb the opening set in 59 minutes.
Still not happy, Djokovic walked to his chair cupping his hand to his ears to prompt booing – and then beckoned for more. But the former world No.1 was now back in the mood and won seven consecutive games to lead 5-0 in the second set. Paul held serve to trail 1-5 but Djokovic took the quicker second set in only 36 minutes when the American could not return on overhead.
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