MELBOURNE: Like Serena Williams before him, Novak Djokovic moved into another Australian Open championship decider with a relatively untroubled semifinal win.
Top-ranked Djokovic had a 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory over No. 3 Roger Federer. Hours earlier on Rod Laver Arena, Williams advanced to within one win of another Grand Slam milestone, beating Agnieszka Radwanska 6-0, 6-4 in a semifinal Thursday that was almost a non-contest between the players who’ll be Nos. 1 and 3 in the next women’s rankings.
If six-time champion Williams wins Saturday’s final against No. 7-seeded Angelique Kerber, she’ll equal Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam singles titles, a record in the Open era, and the second-most in history behind Margaret Court’s 24.
The signs were ominous from the beginning for 17-time Grand Slam champion and No. 3-ranked Federer. Djokovic, now into his sixth Australian final – he’s won all five previous – held his first service game at love and broke Federer in the second. After four minutes, Federer was two games down.
The first set was over within 22 minutes. Spectators- including a woman with a sign reading:
“Just Married But Willing to Exchange for Federer” – were firmly behind him, applauding Djokovic’s service faults and giving Federer a standing ovation when he broke to go ahead 4-2 in the third set.
The end came quickly in the fourth. Djokovic broke Federer in the eighth game to go up 5-3 – not even a stunning down-the-line shot after he earlier chased down a lob on the same point could save the Swiss star.
Djokovic held three match points in the next game and he clinched it in 2 hours, 19 minutes when Federer netted a backhand. Djokovic, who won three Grand Slam titles last year, took a 23-22 edge in his 45 meetings with Federer.
“Definitely I’ve played unbelievable the first two sets but that’s what is necessary against Roger,” Djokovic said. “He’s been playing on a very high level at this tournament and he dropped only one set. I came up with the right intensity, great concentration.”
Federer said he wasn’t surprised by the early blitz. “I’ve seen Novak play this well before,” he said. “It’s tough when it’s from the start because obviously you got to try to stop the bleeding at some point. He can get one or two sets all of a sudden … and it’s tough to get back into it.”
In Sunday’s final, Djokovic will face the winner of Friday’s semifinal between No. 2-ranked Andy Murray and Milos Raonic. “This has been the first Grand Slam that I won back in 2008,” Djokovic said. “Each time I come back … and step on Rod Laver Arena I have this beautiful memory.”
Williams is the overwhelming favorite in her final against Kerber, and not just based on recent form. She continued her perfect streak in Australian Open semifinals, and she has won all six finals she’s contested at Melbourne Park. Now she’s looking for seven wins in seven finals on the same court.
“I definitely block it out,” Williams replied to a question about equaling Graf’s mark. “I was one off last year, too! If I don’t win tomorrow, I’ll still be one off.”
Despite all her success, it is a loss that is inspiring Williams in this tournament. She was two matches away from a calendar-year Grand Slam in 2015 when she lost to Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semifinals. “Physically I’m feeling a lot better, mentally I needed that break after the Open,” she said, but “I didn’t think I would do this well this fast.”
Kerber ended Sydney-born British player Johanna Konta’s surprising run with a 7-5, 6-2 semifinal win to reach her first Grand Slam final. Konta was the first British woman since 1983 to reach a major semifinal. Williams’ win over fourth-seeded Radwanska provided yet another reminder of her dominance in the women’s game. She has won 39 of her last 40 Grand Slam matches across six major tournaments.
Williams hasn’t played a left-hander so far this tournament and said that, combined with Kerber’s quarterfinal win over two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, were making her wary. “She took out a really tough opponent in Victoria. You can’t underestimate Kerber,” Williams said. “She’s beaten me before, too, and pretty good. I know that she brings a lot to the game.” Williams remained unbeaten in nine matches against Radwanska, whom she beat in the 2012 Wimbledon final. “She started unbelievable, with such a power and speed,” Radwanska said. “I was just standing there kind of watching her playing.” – AP