Thu. Feb 22nd, 2024

Jannik Sinner ended 10-time champion Novak Djokovic’s perfect semifinal record at the Australian Open, earning a place in a Grand Slam final for the first time on the back of Friday’s commanding win.

The 22-year-old Italian broke Djokovic’s serve twice in each of the first two sets but missed a match point in the third set before holding on for a 6-1, 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-3 victory. Djokovic had won all 10 semifinals and all 10 finals he’d played previously on Rod Laver Arena.

Almost an hour after his first match point, Sinner converted his second to complete his third win in four head-to-head encounters since a straight-set loss to Djokovic in last year’s Wimbledon semifinals.

“It gives you a better feeling when you know that you can beat one player,” Sinner said. “It’s always nice to have this kind of player who you can learn from.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

“I lost last year in the semifinals in Wimbledon and I learned a lot from that. The confidence from the end of last year has for sure kept the belief.”

The youngest player to reach the men’s final in Australia since Djokovic’s first title in 2008, Sinner will play either third-seeded Daniil Medvedev in Sunday’s final. Medvedev came back from two sets down to beat No. 6 Alexander Zverev in the later semi.

Djokovic’s bid for a record-extending 11th Australian and 25th major title overall will have to wait.

He hadn’t lost a match at Melbourne Park since a fourth-round exit in 2018 and was on a 33-match winning streak at the season’s first major.

“He’s deservedly in the finals. He outplayed me completely,” Djokovic said. “Look, I was, in a way, shocked with my level — in a bad way. There was not much I was doing right in the first two sets.

“Yeah, I guess this is one of the worst Grand Slam matches I’ve ever played. At least that I remember.”

Djokovic didn’t get a look at a break point at all — the first time he’s experienced that in a completed Grand Slam match.

“That stat says a lot,” Djokovic said. “First of all, he was serving very accurately, precise, he was backing his serve very well.

“There’s a lot of negative things that I’ve done on the court today in terms of my game that I’m not really pleased with in return or, you know, movement or forehand, backhand. Everything, you know, was just subpar.”

Sinner took the first two sets in under 1 1/4 hours in an astonishing start to the match against a player who lost only one Grand Slam match last year — the Wimbledon final to Carlos Alcaraz.

Djokovic, as he so often does, picked up his service percentage, cut down his unforced errors and and upped the pressure in the third.

He was serving at 5-5 and at deuce when play was interrupted while a spectator received medical help in the stands. After ambulance officers helped the man walk out, Djokovic held serve and saved a match point at 5-6 in the tiebreaker.

Djokovic won three straight points to force a fourth set, but was immediately in trouble again on his serve.

He fended off three break points to hold from 15-40 down in the second game of the fourth but Sinner got a decisive service break in the fourth game, winning five straight points from 40-0 down to take a 3-1 lead.

Continuous chants of “Nole, Nole, Nole, Nole” echoed around Rod Laver Arena between big points from Djokovic fans encouraging their champion, giving it a football vibe.

It helped lift the intensity of both players.

The chair umpire asked spectators three times to keep quiet with Sinner serving for the match.

The loss to Djokovic at Wimbledon has become a turning point in their rivalry. After losing the first three meetings, Sinner won two of the next three — all in November — in the group stage of the ATP Finals in Turin and in the Davis Cup semifinals.

Sinner was the only player in the final four who didn’t drop a set in the tournament, and he spent almost four fewer hours on court through five rounds than Djokovic, who was taken to four sets three times.

Still, the odds were stacked against fourth-seeded Sinner.

But he played calm, nearly flawless tennis in the first two sets and piled pressure on Djokovic’s serve in a relatively cool 21 degrees Celsius (70 Fahrenheit) and a light breeze.

The 36-year-old Djokovic missed his first chance to be just the third person in history to win 11 titles at any Grand Slam event — Rafael Nadal has 14 French Open titles and Margaret Court won 11 Australian Open women’s titles.

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