MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic paid “huge respect” to old rival Roger Federer on Thursday night after he swept past the ailing star and into a record eighth Australian Open final to move closer to his 17th Grand Slam crown.
In the 50th installment of one of sport’s greatest rivalries, the Serb shrugged off a tentative start to reinforce his recent dominance, showing no mercy to the injury-hit Swiss maestro in a 7-6 (1), 6-4, 6-3 win.
He will play either fifth seed Dominic Thiem or seventh-ranked German Alexander Zverev in Sunday’s final, but it will take a monumental effort to prize another title from the 32-year-old.
Of the seven Melbourne finals Djokovic has made, he has won them all.
If any extra motivation was needed, winning on Sunday will see the Serb reclaim the number one ranking after Thiem sent Rafael Nadal packing in the last eight.
“It’s never easy to play Roger. I mean, obviously he was hurting. You could see it in his movement. Respect to him for trying his best,” said defending champion Djokovic, who is into his 26th Grand Slam final.
“After losing the first set, he got a medical (timeout). He came back and played all the way through. It’s unfortunate that he was not at his best.”
It was the fourth time Djokovic had beaten Federer at the semifinal stage in Melbourne after doing the same in 2008, 2011 and 2016.
Federer, the 2018 champion, came into the match carrying a groin injury that he picked up in his five-set, come-from-behind quarter-final win against Tennys Sandgren.
He was seen around Melbourne Park before the match with tape on his upper right leg and there were even rumors that he might pull out.
But that is not in the 38-year-old’s nature — he has only ever given up four walkovers in his long career and has never retired in more than 1,500 matches, facts that Djokovic said were “amazing” and deserved “huge respect.”