Melbourne: Rampant defending champion Novak Djokovic powered past Milos Raonic to set up Tuesday a blockbuster Australian Open semifinal against Roger Federer after the Swiss ace saved an incredible seven match points in one of his greatest escapes.
The Serbian World No.2, despite trouble with his contact lenses, tamed the big-serving Canadian 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7/1) as he targets an eighth Melbourne Park crown and 17th Grand Slam title. But it was also clear all through the match that the tragic death of Kobe Bryant had crealy had a huge effect on Djokovic.
Six-time champion Federer is next, after one of his most memorable comebacks against unseeded American Tennys Sandgren. The 38-year-old great, the oldest man to reach the Melbourne semis since Ken Rosewall 43 years ago, came through an action-packed clash 6-3, 2-6, 2-6, 7-6 (10/8), 6-3.
The pair have dominated the Australian Open winning 12 of the last 14 titles between them. They have played each other 49 times, with the Serb in front 26-23.
“I have tremendous respect for Roger,” said Djokovic, who became emotional in his on-court interview when asked about the tragic death in a helicopter crash of Kobe Bryant, a personal friend. “The match-ups I have had against Roger and Rafa (Nadal) have made me the player I am today. May the best player win,” Djokovic added.
In the match Djokovic threatened straight away, earning breakpoints on the Raonic serve several times before finally converting to take the set and snap the Canadian’s run.
After the 63-game streak on his serve, his next amounted to just one game, broken again in the fourth game of the second set as Djokovic took a stranglehold.
The relentless Serb who has won 11 straight matches this season went toe-to-toe with the Canadian in the third set when at 4-4 he called for new contact lenses, which turned into a medical timeout. Raonic wasn’t impressed that he didn’t wait until the changeover.
Djokovic appeared to struggle with his vision on his return, but it quickly came back into focus as he raced through the tie-breaker to book his ticket to the semifinal.
After the match Djokovic teared up as he paid tribute to late basketball star Bryant, describing him as a ‘mentor’ and a ‘friend’ for the past 10 years.
Djokovic said it was ‘heartbreaking’ to hear about Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash along with his daughter and seven others.
“He was one of the greatest athletes of all time, he inspired me and many other people around the world,” Djokovic said in an on-court interview at Rod Laver Arena, wearing a tracksuit with the initials KB.
“I had the fortune to have a personal relationship with him over the past 10 years. When I needed some advice and some support he was always there for me. He was my mentor, my friend and it’s just heart-breaking to see and to hear what has happened to him and his daughter,” Djokovic said, before breaking off to compose himself.