Novak Djokovic overcame a tough build-up and a nervous first set to defeat Tommy Paul and reach his 10th Australian Open final.
The Serb will face Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday in his 33rd Grand Slam final to equal Rafael Nadal’s record 22 titles, while the winner will overtake Carlos Alcaraz as world number one.
His 7-5 6-1 6-2 win over American Paul looks simple on the scoreboard, but it certainly wasn’t when Djokovic lost four straight games from 5-1 in the first set.
The 35-year-old had steamrolled Alex De Minaur and Andrey Rublev in the previous two rounds, but didn’t look set up from the start here, perhaps a legacy of the events of the past 24 hours after his father was filmed with Vladimir Putin. supporters at Melbourne Park on Wednesday.
Srdjan Djokovic released a statement on Friday saying he was unwittingly caught up in the protest while taking photos with his son’s fans, but decided not to attend the game to ensure he didn’t. would be “no disturbance”.
Djokovic himself had no comment on the incident, but it would certainly have added a sour note to what has generally been a very positive comeback in Australia following last year’s expulsion.
At times it felt like a love-in for the Serbian on Rod Laver Arena, with his fans packing the stadium to welcome him back.
It was different here, however, with first-time slam semi-finalist Paul’s support growing as he threatened to do the unthinkable in the opening set.
Djokovic looked nervous early on but was unpunished, saving two break points in the opener and winning in every big moment to take a 5-1 lead.
He then argued with referee Damien Dumusois as the shot clock started and remarkably lost 11 of the next 13 points, losing serve twice in a row.
But Paul couldn’t hold his own serve to force a tie-break and, to boos from the crowd, Djokovic returned to his seat, motioning as the noise grew louder.
Winning the first set allowed Djokovic, who again showed no signs of being bothered by his left hamstring problem, to relax a bit.
He broke serve early in the second set and from there Paul, who is a willing runner with a nice backhand but no big guns, couldn’t land more than a fleeting blow on Djokovic.
The 35-year-old set a new record of 27 straight wins here and now faces a rematch of the 2021 French Open final, when he came back from two sets down to defeat Tsitsipas.
“I’m really happy to get to another final,” Djokovic said. “I respect him (Tsitsipas) a lot, he’s improved a lot over the years. I actually think he’s one of the most interesting guys on tour with his interests off the pitch, his hairstyle. But Sunday is all business May the best player win.