MELBOURNE – Three quick thoughts from Novak Djokovic’s statement in the form of a 6–1, 6–2, 3–6, 6–3 win over Roger Federer in Thursday night's Australian Open men's semifinals.
• Earlier in the day on Thursday, the cynosure of the women’s game turned a thoroughly dominating set of tennis against a highly credible opponent. Serena Williams blanked Aga Radwanska, 6–0, in roughly the time it takes to make a sandwich. Tonight, the cynosure of the men’s game may have topped her. For 22 minutes, Novak Djokovic wasn’t good; he was unplayable. He won 24 points to Federer’s 11, broke serve twice and committed only two unforced errors. The scoreline of 6–1 belied the lopsidedness.
Djokovic played a set that ought to be preserved in amber, demoralizing his opponent. The second set was more of the same, Djokovic winning 6–2. Buoyed by the crowd, Federer clawed his back, winning the third. Then Djokovic, steadied, played a terrific return game at 4–3 and closed out the match. Sometimes in tennis, you watch a player compete at a dizzying level and simply say, “too good.” For much of the match, it was “too great.”
• At odds with his age, Federer played terrific tennis here before this point. In his first five matches, he dropped just one set. He spent far less time on court than Djokovic did. He endured no drama on the order of Djokovic’s unsightly 100-error, five-set squeak out against Gilles Simon. As one former major winner put it before the match, “It’s been a while since Federer came in looking so good and Djokovic looking so ordinary." Which must have made Thursday night's defeat all the more demoralizing. Federer positioned himself perfectly to spring the upset. And then….he never even got his teeth into the first two sets. He rallied in the third. He played a few loose points in the fourth and…poof. And while head-to-heads can be misleading and are statistically problematic, we’re duty bound to point that Federer now has a losing record against both Rafael Nadal and Djokovic.
• The defending champ, clear-cut No.1 and five-time winner here in Melbourne, Djokovic was the favorite to win this tournament two weeks ago. While his level dipped in the middle rounds, he’s playing at an almost comical level now. Though he spent too much time on the court in the middle rounds, the short night matches in the quarterfinals (against Kei Nishikori) and against Federer on Thursday night ought to help preserve battery power. (Plus he now has two days off before the final.) His confidence is swollen, as it ought to be. This match doubled as a mic-drop statement. All of which is to say: Djokovic has put himself in an ideal position to win the title yet again.
Snapshots from Djokovic vs. Federer
Australian Open semifinals: Djokovic vs. Federer