Djokovic’s Australian Open revenge mission

The writing looks on the wall for Tommy Paul after Novak Djokovic declared himself intent on banishing the bitter memories of last year’s deportation debacle and adding a 10th Australian Open crown to his collection.

With the super Serb’s form surging and a leg injury seemingly behind him, Djokovic was already a prohibitive favourite entering Friday’s semi-final against the unseeded Paul at Melbourne Park.

But now the nine-times champion admits “something extra” is driving his push to match Rafael Nadal’s record 22 men’s grand slam singles titles.

“I don’t think that I lack determination,” Djokovic said on Thursday.

“I always try to give my best, particularly in grand slams because at this stage of my career those are the tournaments that count the most, of course.

“But you could say that there is something extra this year. You could say because of the injury, what happened last year.

“I just wanted to really do well. So far I have a perfect score in Australian hard courts, in Adelaide and here (this year).

“I’ve been playing better and better. I couldn’t ask for a better situation to be in at the moment.”

Djokovic’s steely approach appears to spell doom for Paul, who will be contesting his maiden grand slam semi-final against tennis’ would-be GOAT who has never lost a last-four encounter at Melbourne Park.

The 35-year-old is unbeaten in 39 matches in Australia since 2018 and, ominously, dropped a meagre 12 games in his past six sets against world No.6 Andrey Rublev and Australia’s 24th seed Alex de Minaur.

“The last two matches, playing against two guys that are really good players, in-form players, to beat them dominantly in three sets is definitely something that I want in this moment,” Djokovic said ahead of his 44th grand slam semi-final.

“Something that sends a message to all my opponents remaining in the draw.

“With this kind of game, of course the confidence level rises.

“I feel good on the court, better and better as the tournament progresses.

“I’ve been in this situation so many times in my life, in my career, never lost a semi-final in the Australian Open. Hopefully that will stay the same.”

While Djokovic’s crushing defeat of Rublev marked a 22nd win from his past 23 matches against top-10 opponents at the Open, Paul has yet to face a top-20 rival during his breakout run this campaign.

The two have never clashed before and, as much as Djokovic says he respects Paul as a “very complete player”, injury realistically looks to be the fourth seed’s biggest danger.

Djokovic, though, apparently has that in check too, having not required any medical timeouts since the third round.

Djokovic or Paul will face the winner of Friday’s other semi-final – between Greek world No.4 Stefanos Tsitsipas and Russian 18th seed Karen Khachanov – for the title on Sunday night.

4-NOVAK DJOKOVIC (SRB) v TOMMY PAUL (USA) – first meeting

NOVAK DJOKOVIC

Age: 35

Ranking: 5

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US164,786,653

Career titles: 92

Grand slam titles: 21 (Australian Open 2008, 2011-2013, 2015-16, 2019-21; French Open 2016, 2021; Wimbledon 2011, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022; US Open 2011, 2015, 2018)

Australian Open win-loss record: 87-8

Best Australian Open results: champion 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020, 2021

TOMMY PAUL

Age: 25

Ranking: 35

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US3,721,250

Career titles: 1

Grand slam titles: 0

Australian Open win-loss record: 9-3

Best Australian Open result: semi-finals 2023

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