Novak Djokovic overcomes 'strange' meltdown to make Australian Open final

Novak Djokovic appeared to be cruising in the first set against Tommy Paul in the Australian Open semi-final, until he wasn't.

Novak Djokovic is circled in red speaking to the chair umpire in the left shot, and gesturing to the crowd in the right hand shot.
Novak Djokovic lost four straight games against Tommy Paul in the first set of the Australian Open semi-final, after an exchange with the umpire while leading 5-1. Pictures: Getty Images

Novak Djokovic has overcome a bizarre near-implosion in his Australian Open semi-final against Tommy Paul, after coming a handful of points from blowing a double-break lead in the first set. Paul, a heavy underdog against the nine-time champion, appeared to be playing to script at 5-1, before peeling off four straight games in an impressive feat to level the opening set.

Djokovic could possibly have lost some rhythm after expressing frustration with the crowd at various points in the set, however it was an exchange with the chair umpire over the serve timer that could have let Paul back in. The American threatened to force a tiebreak after Djokovic won a clinical service game of his own to draw ahead, but it was to no avail as the World No.5 took a third break to win the set 7-5.

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Proceedings began inauspiciously for the Serbian star when he double-faulted in the opening service game of the match. Described as an 'unusual' start for the normally impeccable Djokovic by Channel 9's Todd Woodbridge, his later exchange with the umpire was also viewed as a tipping point. He had a brief conversation with the official about when he was permitted to retrieve his towel, seemingly a misunderstanding, before Paul began his spirited comeback.

There would be no such comeback for Paul in a decisive second set. Djokovic once again found himself up 5-1, but this time turned in a clinical service game for a two-set lead.

He then marched into the Australian Open final to the tune of a 7-5 6-1 6-2 thrashing. He will face Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday night's final after the Greek star overcame Karen Khachanov 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 6-3.

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Third seed Tsitsipas earlier extended his 2023 winning streak to 10 matches as his Australian coach Mark Philippoussis watched on from the Greek star's box. It was a case of fourth time lucky for Tsitsipas, who fell at the semi-final hurdle in three of his previous four appearances at what he regards as his 'home' major in Melbourne.

Tsitsipas, ranked fourth, will claim the World No.1 mantle for the first time if he lifts the Norman Brooks Challenge Cup on Sunday night.

"I like that number. It's all about you, it's singular, it's one," Tsitsipas said. "These are the moments that I've been working hard for; to be able to play in finals like this, but finals that have a bigger meaning than just the final.

Stefanos Tsitsipas eased his way into his second grand slam final, defeating Karen Khachanov in their semi-final at the Australian Open. (Photo by MARTIN KEEP/AFP via Getty Images)
Stefanos Tsitsipas eased his way into his second grand slam final, defeating Karen Khachanov in their semi-final at the Australian Open. (Photo by MARTIN KEEP/AFP via Getty Images)

"It's a grand slam final, I'm fighting for the No.1 spot, it's a childhood dream to be capturing the No.1 spot one day. I'm close. I'm happy that this opportunity comes here in Australia and not somewhere else because this is a place of significance."

It was not all smooth sailing in the semi-final for Tsitsipas, who was twice up a break in the first set before being pegged back and sent to a tiebreaker. He was also called for foot faults several times during the first two sets as he repeatedly stepped across the centre service line.

The succession of calls clearly confused Tsitsipas before the chair umpire clarified what the issue was. Tsitsipas wasted two match points against the 18th seed during the third set before securing his sixth - and most important - win in as many career meetings with Khachanov.

with AAP

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