World number two Novak Djokovic on Tuesday (January 28) set up a semi-final clash with Roger Federer at the Australian Open after defeating Milos Raonic 6-4 6-3 7-6(1) at Rod Laver Arena.
This is the Serbian’s eighth Australian Open semi-final where he will meet Federer for the 50th time.
Federer swept into the semis for a record 15th time after thrashing Tennys Sandgren 6-3 2-6 2-6 7-6(8) 6-3 at Melbourne Park.
The 38-year-old, who is chasing a 21st Grand Slam title, will face the Serb on Thursday (January 30) as he targets a record eighth title and a 17th Slam crown.
Djokovic paid tribute to his late friend and mentor Kobe Bryant, who in the wee hours of January 26 died in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and nine others.
“The death of Kobe has really caught us all by surprise as he was one of the greatest athletes of all time. He inspired me and many other people around the world. I had the fortune to have a personal relationship with him over the last 10 years. He was my friend and mentor and its very heartbreaking to see what has happened to him and his daughter,” said Djokovic with a teary-eye.
What was similar in the matches of Federer and Djokovic were the medical timeouts taken by both the players. While Federer said that he doesn’t like calling the trainer on the court but he believes in “miracles”, Djokovic apologised to his counterpart as him leaving the court to replace his contact lenses was neither intentional nor tactical.
Federer assessed his performance against Sandgren by saying that he got “incredibly lucky” and that during the course of the match the pressure went away.
“You’ve got to get lucky sometimes. I was just hoping that maybe he was not going to smash the winner, to keep the ball in play, who knows what he’s thinking about? I got incredibly lucky today. As the match wore on I started feeling better and the pressure went away. I don’t deserve this one but I’m standing here and I’m obviously very happy,” he said in a post-match interview.
Asked about his clash with Federer, Djokovic said, “Obviously tremendous respect for Roger, everything he has achieved in this sport and he’s been one of the all-time greats and definitely one of my two biggest rivals. I’ve been saying this many times and I’ll repeat again: The match-ups against Roger and Rafa have made me the player I am today so I’m grateful that I’ve had so many great matches against those guys. And I hope I get to at least one match point. It’s quite amazing what he has done this on the court today and it’s not the first time he has done that in his career. That’s why he is who he is. Let the better player win.”
Federer has made heavy weather of reaching his 46th Major semi-final. He was two points from defeat by John Millman in a fifth-set tie-breaker in round three, and dropped a set against 67th-ranked Marton Fucsovics in round four.
Meanwhile, veteran Leander Paes’ last Australian Open outing came to an end after he and partner Jelena Ostapenko were knocked out of the mixed doubles competition, going down in straight sets to Jamie Murray and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
The 46-year-old Paes and Lativia’s Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, lost to the British-American pair 2-6 5-7 in a second-round match that lasted one hour and seven minutes.
Paes had earlier announced that 2020 would be his final year on the Pro circuit.
Rohan Bopanna is the only Indian left in the fray now. The 39-year-old and Nadiia Kichenok of Ukraine will take on fifth seed Nikola Mektic and Barbora Krejcikova in the mixed doubles quarterfinals on Wednesday.