Novak Djokovic has resisted a stirring fightback from Roger Federer to advance to a sixth Australian Open final in breathtaking fashion at Melbourne Park.
Djokovic and Federer took tennis to extraordinary new levels at times before the Serbian prevailed 6-1 6-2 3-6 6-3 on Thursday night in an enthralling semi-final.
The rampant world No.1 was on track to dish out the heaviest hardcourt defeat of Federer’s 1307-match career before the great Swiss thrilled fans at Rod Laver Arena – including Laver himself – to raise hopes of a famous comeback win.
But after a controversial 10-minute stoppage to close the roof amid forecasts of rain, Djokovic regained control to seal a spot in Sunday’s night’s championship decider.
Djokovic will play the winner of Friday night’s second semi-final between Scottish world No.2 and four-time runner-up Andy Murray or big-serving Canadian 13th seed Milos Raonic.
The 28-year-old will be bidding to join legends Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver with 11 major championship wins in what will be his 19th grand slam final.
“Right now, I feel like I’m at the peak of my career and I’m trying to cherish every moment on court,” Djokovic said.
“Definitely I played an unbelievable first two sets but that’s what is necessary against Roger.
“He’s been playing a very high level in this tournament. He’s been playing very aggressively.
“I came up with the right intensity. I executed everything perfectly.
“Obviously with a two-set lead is more comfortable, but it was a battle in the end.”
For Federer, the three-and-a-half-year drought since he won his 17th slam at Wimbledon in 2012 continues.
Djokovic’s tennis in the opening set on Thursday night was as good as it gets.
In the 45th instalment of an epic rivalry locked at 22 wins apiece, Djokovic opened with an ace, held for love and won 12 of the first 14 points to charge to a 3-0 lead.
Hitting with incredible power and precision, the top seed gained a second break and closed out the first set in 22 minutes.
Only once in 16 previous attempts had Federer beaten Djokovic after conceding the opening set.
There appeared no way back after Djokovic broke the third seed twice more and barely dropped a point on his own serve in storming to a two-set advantage inside an hour.
Federer saved another break point in the fifth game of the third set before producing his best tennis of the night, including a crazy running crosscourt pass, to break Djokovic for 4-2 and drawing thunderous applause from the sellout crowd.
The ageless champion held firm to clinch the set on his third set point and suddenly the crowd had a match on their hands.
Striving to become the oldest Open champion since Ken Rosewall in 1972, the 34-year-old had Djokovic down love-30 immediately on the resumption of play after the roof was shut.
But Federer couldn’t convert and paid the price as Djokovic, after benefiting from a fortuitous net-cord winner, broke the Swiss for a decisive 5-3 advantage before closing out his 34th win from his past 35 grand slam encounters.
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