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Formidable Melbourne record makes Novak Djokovic a firm favourite for 10th title

Novak Djokovic has been in brilliant form in Melbourne (Dita Alangkara/AP)
Novak Djokovic has been in brilliant form in Melbourne (Dita Alangkara/AP)

Novak Djokovic spoke after brushing aside Andrey Rublev of a desire to send a message to his remaining rivals, although his formidable record at the Australian Open means it is scarcely needed.

If Tommy Paul, Stefanos Tsitsipas or Karen Khachanov is to lift the title on Sunday, they will need to do what no player has managed since Djokovic won for the first time here 15 years ago.

The Serbian has made the last four nine times previously and claimed the trophy on each occasion, and the odds are firmly on him reaching double figures.

Concerns over a hamstring injury appear to have receded, and a desire to stay on the front foot and avoid too much running has led to Djokovic crushing Alex De Minaur and Rublev in back-to-back matches for the loss of just 12 games in six sets.

“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, something that sends a message to all my opponents remaining in the draw,” said the Serbian.

“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-finals in (the) Australian Open. Hopefully that will stay the same.”

His next opponent is 25-year-old Paul, who will play in a grand slam semi-final for the first time.

Something of a late bloomer, Paul is one of 10 American men who will be in the top 50 at the end of this tournament and it appears they are finally out of the doldrums that followed Andy Roddick’s retirement a decade ago.

Should Paul beat Djokovic, he would be the first American to make the men’s singles final here since Andre Agassi in 2003.

“That’s all we’ve been hearing, since like 14 years old,” said Paul. “The coaches have been telling us, ‘We need new Americans, we need new Americans’. It’s kind of engraved in my head.

“We all want to perform. Obviously Frances (Tiafoe) was pretty damn close at US Open to getting past the semis. Who knows what would have happened in the finals? I think we all want it pretty bad for ourselves, but we want it for US tennis, too.”

The first semi-final will pit two players trying to reach the final here for the first time against each other.

Russian Khachanov made the last four at a slam for the first time at the US Open last summer, losing to Casper Ruud, while Tsitsipas is more experienced having got to this stage five times previously.

Three of those have been in Melbourne, including the last two years, where he has been defeated on both occasions by Daniil Medvedev.

The only time he has made it past the semi-finals was at the French Open in 2021, when he led Djokovic by two sets to love only for the Serbian to fight back.

Stefanos Tsitsipas
Stefanos Tsitsipas is bidding to reach a first Australian Open final (Aaron Favila)

Tsitsipas has appeared a man on a mission this fortnight as he chases a maiden slam title, and he credited a shift in his mentality.

“There is this one sort of way of looking at tennis that you’re really exhausted after every match,” he said. “Every single thing you try to do on the court takes a lot of effort.

“There’s this other version of tennis where you’re doing your job but you’re enjoying it so much you don’t care if it’s exhausting or not. You’re refreshed by it every single time.

“I think I’m heading towards more of that lately than the other thing. I’m very happy to be out on the court. I’m very happy to be performing. I’m very happy to hit some good shots.

“It’s just this whole dynamic that has made me very hungry and has created a lot of desire for me to be playing tennis, wanting to achieve new things.”