Djokovic wary of semi-final underdog in quest for 22nd Slam title

Melbourne (AFP): Novak Djokovic has won all nine of his Australian Open semi-finals and is not ready to let Tommy Paul ruin his unblemished record on Friday as he closes in on a 22nd Grand Slam crown.

The Serb, who won his first Slam at Melbourne Park in 2008, struggled physically in the early rounds this year with a hamstring injury.

But straight-sets thrashings of Alex de Minaur and Andrey Rublev for the loss of just 12 games ominously signalled that the favourite is back to his best for the semi-finals.

Should he beat the unseeded American Paul on Rod Laver Arena, he will face either third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas or Russian 18th seed Karen Khachanov as a final roadblock to a 10th Australian Open title on Sunday.

Djokovic has extra motivation to go all the way and equal Rafael Nadal’s 22nd Grand Slam crowns after missing last year’s event when he was deported over his Covid vaccination stance. In his absence the Spanish great won.

“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,” said the 35-year-old.

“But you could say that there is something extra this year. You could say because, yeah, 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 (which he won) and here. I’ve been playing better and better. I couldn’t ask for a better situation to be in at the moment.”

With Djokovic on a 26-match win streak at the Australian Open — equalling Andre Agassi’s Open-era record at the first Grand Slam of the year — the 35th-ranked Paul is a heavy underdog. The 25-year-old is a surprise semi-finalist, making this far at a major for the first time on the 14th attempt.