Yevgeny Kafelnikov has no doubts: there will be a Russian Grand Slam champion in the very near future, “it’s inevitable”. The prediction of the former world number one Roland Garros (1996) and the Australian Open (1999) came close to becoming a reality, with the presence of two Russians in the Australian semi-final. But the great candidate to take up the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup remains Novak Djokovic. In the final test of his physical form, the Serbian beat Alexander Zverev and took a big step forward to win the Open for the ninth time.
The leader of the standings refused nine out of 12 breaking points in Zverev, one of which set point from the fourth game, to win, after three and a half hours: 6-7 (6/8), 6-2, 6-4 and 7-6 (10/8). The 23-year-old German gained more points with first serve (74%), second serve (49%) and in response games (32%) than the opponent, but Djokovic was more effective on important points, making six out of nine breaking points and, with the 23rd ace, closed the 11th consecutive victory over one of the top 10 opponents of the courts of Melbourne Park, since 2014.
“Until the last point, anyone could win. There was a lot of tension, a lot of pressure. Emotionally I felt a bit exhausted, ”admitted the Serb, who, 11 days earlier, in the ATP Cup, had already experienced many difficulties (6-7, 6-2 and 7-5) to defeat Zverev.
As for the injury he suffered in the third round, Djokovic responded in the search, with two demanding consecutive wins, both out of four sets. “I didn’t train on my days off. I will continue to do the same and hope the result will be the same, ”said the 33-year-old tennis player.
Djokovic, who has gone on to win the title in the previous eight Australian Open semi-final appearances, will discuss a place in the final with Russian Aslan Karatsev, who continues to surprise in Melbourne. Yesterday the Russian had a bit of luck with the injury of Grigor Dimitrov, which he won 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 and 6-2.
Karatsev blamed the heat and offered little resistance in the first together, which ended with 19 direct errors and only three winners. In the second game Dimitrov missed seven breaking points in the Russian’s first service games, and suddenly his level of play dropped, to the point that he finished the game on foot. “I don’t like to give up,” said the Bulgarian, before explaining: “Yesterday, out of nowhere, I had a spasm in my back. In the morning, I couldn’t even put on my socks. I tried, but it wasn’t good enough.
Karatsev, 27 and 114 in the world rankings, is the fifth player in the eligible to reach the semi-finals of a Grand Slam – and the first to reach it in Australia since 1977 – and the worst-ranked to reach this far in a Major, since Goran Ivanisevic, at the 2001 Wimbledon Tournament. For the moment, Karatsev has the guarantee of an entry in the top 50 and of a check of 539 thousand euros, higher than the total of the prizes in cash that he won during his career (510 thousand euros).
The other Russian semi-finalist came out of the duel between his compatriots Daniil Medvedev (4.º) and Andrey Rublev (8.º), scheduled for 4am from Portugal.
In the women’s tournament, Serena Williams met in the semi-finals Naomi Osaka, who beat her in the 2018 US Open final. About three weeks ago, at an exhibition match in Adelaide, Serena won it at “tie-break match»(6-2, 2-6 e 10/7).
“I saw her meetings and, of course, she saw mine. I think it’s a good opportunity for me to continue playing my best tennis, ”said the 39-year-old American, after beating 2nd Simona Halep with a 6-3 double. Serena (11.ª) won 20 of the 26 points played with her first serve and accumulated 24 winners to continue the search for his 24th Grand Slam title.
Osaka (3rd) has never lost in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament and has increased the number of consecutive games to 19 by beating the unpredictable Su-Wei Hsieh (71st) in 67 minutes with a double 6- 2.