January 28, 2020
Novak Djokovic is through to face Roger Federer for the fiftieth time.
And you get the feeling that nobody – not even Federer and his extraordinary fighting spirit – can stand in Novak’s way for very long.
The Serb defeated big-serving Milos Raonic 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7-1) to reach his eighth Australian Open semi-final.
Djokovic has never lost one yet. Federer will already be planning how to make that happen.
It was interesting to see how Djokovic unpicked the powerful Canadian with clinical precision.
But there was an air of inevitability about it too.
In fact, Djokovic had more problems with his vision under the bright lights than he had with his opponent’s brutal force.
He repeatedly rubbed his eyes, blinked and stared as he closed in on victory.
But just as Novak usually does, he found a way to prevail.
He took a medical timeout to replace his contact lenses and the timing seemed to unsettle Raonic.
Djokovic said later: ‘I want to apologise to Milos because it’s not something you see often.
‘It was not intentional or tactical. It was just something I had to do because I couldn’t see much.’
Now Federer stands between the Serb and yet another final.
Novak added: ‘Tremendous respect to Roger and everything he has achieved in the sport.
‘He has been one of the all-time-greats and definitely one of my biggest rivals. Match-ups against Roger and Rafa have made me the player I am today.’
Djokovic knew all about Federer’s remarkable defiance and the way he saved no fewer than seven match points against Tennys Sandgren.
‘And I hope to have at least one match point,’ Novak added with a smile. ‘It’s amazing what he has done on this court today and it’s not the first time he has done that in his career.
‘That’s why he is who he is. Let the better player win.’
And it is no secret that Novak usually gets the better of Roger on the biggest occasions.
This time Djokovic maybe even more motivated, though not in a way he could ever have wanted or imagined.
The death of Kobe Bryant has hit Novak hard.
He explained: ‘I was fortunate to have a personal relationship with him over ten years. When I needed advice and support he was there for me.
‘He was my mentor and friend. It is heartbreaking to see what has happened to him and his daughter.’
By now poor Novak was in tears and had to break off from the interview.
But he will be desperate, you sense, to win this Australian Open and dedicate it to Kobe and his family.
Federer will be hungry for a third Australian Open title in four years and you can never rule out a man of his class.
Two five-set classics may have drawn too heavily on his energy reserves, though. And Roger is now carrying a slight groin injury as well.
So it simply has to be Djokovic…doesn’t it?