Injury has cruelled Kei Nishikori once again, forcing him to withdraw from his Australian Open quarterfinal and hand Novak Djokovic the simplest of passages into the last four at Melbourne Park.
The world No.1 will face unlikely French semifinalist Lucas Pouille for the chance to return to the final for the first time since 2016.
Pouille earlier on Wednesday beat Milos Raonic in four sets to reach the last four at a major tournament for the first time.
Djokovic will be well rested after a 52-minute hit-out on Rod Laver Arena that barely represented a tennis match, let alone a Grand Slam quarterfinal.
The Japanese ace was troubled by a thigh injury from early in their clash.
After losing the first set, Nishikori took a lengthy medical timeout and had his leg strapped as he tried to continue.
Hopes were raised when he held serve to begin the second set, but it quickly became clear this was not a contest.
Djokovic rattled off the next 12 points with ease, as Nishikori opted not to even run for many of his groundstrokes.
With the score reading 6-1 4-1, Nishikori offered his apologies to both the Serb and the capacity crowd as he retired.
“After third game or fourth game when I was serving, I felt pretty heavy to my right leg. After that I couldn’t really bend my knees and couldn’t jump up,” Nishikori said.
“I’m sure it comes from my past matches, especially last match. I was moving a lot, waste too much energy.”
Nishikori is no stranger to injuries or retirements, having battled a string of complaints – most notably and recently a severe wrist injury – through his career.
Coming into their quarterfinal, Nishikori had already spent four and a half hours longer on court at Melbourne Park than Djokovic, completing nine tiebreaks to just one.
It is the 29-year-old’s first loss of the season after he claimed the Brisbane International title.
For Djokovic, the withdrawal was manna from heaven.
The six-times Australian Open champion had his own battle with fatigue in his fourth round win over Daniil Medvedev.
“As they say, this is exactly what the doctor ordered for me after the match two nights ago. Not to spend too much time on the court,” he said.
Quite staggeringly, Djokovic and semifinal opponent Pouille have never met.
“It’s funny that we’re going to play first time against each other (here),” Djokovic said.
“We’ve practised many times. We’ve known each other obviously for a long time. Here we go.
“Hopefully we can both be fresh and fit and put on the great show.”
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