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Australian Open: Novak Djokovic extends perfect record by ending qualifier Aslan Karatsev's dream run

Cassandra Negley
·3-min read

Novak Djokovic doesn't seem bothered by the injury that hampered him early in the tournament. 

The world No. 1 played nearly flawlessly to defeat Aslan Karatsev in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, in the Australian Open semifinal on Thursday. He made one unforced error in more than 50 minutes on the court and said afterward mentally and physically he feels the best he has all tournament. 

"I was hitting the ball very well, mixing the pace. [I] didn't give him the same looks at all. [I] always kind of kept him guessing and served well when I needed to get out of trouble, late in the second set," Djokovic said. 

"I'm just very pleased with the performance. It came at the right time, before [the] last match in a Grand Slam [tournament]. Being in this situation many times [before] I think helps kind of gather all the necessary elements for me to peak at the right time, which is happening again. I'm very obviously happy about. I'm also happy that I have two days off now. Recovery is still the priority."

Djokovic is 9-0 in Australian Open semifinals and is going for his ninth title at the Grand Slam. It would extend his current record of eight titles and make him only the second man to win nine or more titles at one site. A championship would also pull him closer to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal's record 20 Grand Slam titles. 

No. 4 Daniil Medvedev and No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas meet in the other semifinal on Friday. 

Djokovic drops up-and-comer in straight sets

Novak Djokovic reaches for a ball.
Novak Djokovic hits a backhand return to Russia's Aslan Karatsev during a straight-sets win. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

Karatsev came through qualifying and made the semifinals in his Grand Slam debut. The 114th-ranked Russian player kept it tight through seven games, but Djokovic turned it up and took eight straight points for the first set victory. 

In the second set, Karastsev broke Djokovic's serve for the first time in the match to narrow the veteran player's lead to 5-4. Djokovic clinched the second set after holding off multiple break points. He then cruised to the victory with a third-set performance. 

Karatsev is the first man in the professional era to reach the semifinals his debut at a major. His performance at the Australian Open will move him into the Top 50 rankings, so he won't have to go through qualifying. 

Djokovic's health a concern

Djokovic suffered an abdominal muscle problem during the third round. He struggled on the court, but overcame it to defeat American Tayor Fritz, 7-6(1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2. Djokovic, 33, underwent tests the following day and came back to battle for a 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 win against Milos Raonic, advancing to the quarterfinals. 

He had cautioned numerous times he might not be able to continue and after the Raonic win, he confirmed why he's fighting to stay. 

“There was a big cloud of doubt whether I’m going to play or not but it’s a Grand Slam and, for me, at this stage of my career, this means everything," he told reporters. "If it was any other tournament, I probably wouldn’t be playing."

With one match left to play, Djokovic said Thursday it's the "best as I've felt the entire tournament." 

“I felt great. I could swing through the ball. No pain. Best match so far," Djokovic said. “It came at the right time. I’m thrilled to feel this way.”

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