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Sunday, February 5, 2023

For his mom: After winning, Djokovic makes the whole stadium sing

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The 35-year-old Serb didn’t give Thiem conqueror Andrei Rublev from Russia a chance in 6: 1.6: 2.6: 4 in just 2:03 hours and is still on course for the 22nd major title and tenth Melbourne triumph. In the semifinals on Friday he is also the clear favorite in the first duel with the American Tommy Paul. The latter defeated his compatriot Ben Shelton 7:6(6),6:3,5:7,6:4.

So Djokovic is only two wins away from another triumph on the Yarra River. “I can’t be happier with my tennis at the moment,” said the “Djoker” on the pitch. “The result looked clearer than it was in the first two sets. I played my best tennis in the most important moments.”

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The wind caused a bit of trouble for the Serb. “When I warmed up, it wasn’t that windy. You have to choose your shots well.”

Attack on number 1

In this form and despite the previous left thigh difficulties, Djokovic seems poised to draw level with Rafael Nadal in the race for most major titles. If Djokovic wins his 22nd triumph, then he will be number 1 in the world again. The way there was not easy for him before and during the Australian Open. “I was more connected to machines to take care of myself than to things or people. I tried everything,” admitted Djokovic. “I miss tennis on the days off, but you have to be smart to get fit in time.”

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Djokovic won’t underestimate Tommy Paul in the semifinals, but he has also won all nine semis in Melbourne so far and then also won the title. “He doesn’t have much to lose. I have to approach it the same as every match before.”

He humorously thanked his physio on the pitch for his many years of work and also his mother Dijana, who was present again this time, to whom he sang “Happy Birthday” on the pitch with the audience – in the video:

When Djokovic remembered his first major semi-final in 2007 (US Open) and then mentioned the final defeat against Roger Federer, cheers erupted for the retired Swiss. Djokovic urged the audience to applaud Federer. “Tennis misses him.” The Serb also saw Federer’s postings at Fashion Week and on skis. “Maybe we can go skiing together.”

Linette surprised

Among the women, Aryna Sabalenka, number five, and, completely surprisingly, Magda Linette, completed the semifinals. Linette continues to fill the breach for her Polish compatriot and top favorite Iga Swiatek, who was unexpectedly eliminated in the round of 16. She defeated the defective Czech Karolina Pliskova 6:3,7:5. After that, Belarusian Sabalenka didn’t give Croatian Donna Vekic a chance at 6:3,6:2.

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For the 30-year-old Linette, success comes out of nowhere. In her 30th Grand Slam tournament, she is now in the semi-finals for the first time, before that she had never gotten past the third round of a major. “Maybe I really can’t believe it yet,” she said at the press conference. On the other hand, the victory over Pliskova was the fourth in a row over a seed: Before Pliskova, she had also knocked out Anett Kontaveit (No. 16), Yekaterina Alexandrowa (19) and Caroline Garcia (4). Linette is only the third Polish woman in the professional tennis era after Agnieszka Radwanska and Swiatek in the semi-finals of the Australian Open.

Fourth time in the semifinals

“I’m just happy,” Linette said. “I will never forget that. It will stay with me for a lifetime.” In the fight for the final ticket, Linette meets Sabalenka on Thursday. The latter didn’t stay long at 6:3,6:2 over Vekic. The 24-year-old, who is now the top favorite for the title, not only because of her placement as number 5, is in a Grand Slam semifinal for the fourth time. Your record in 2023 is impeccable: nine games, nine wins and no loss of a set.

“I’m super happy with the win, the atmosphere was incredible,” said Sabalenka, who had already triumphed in Adelaide as a warm-up. In addition, Vekic was something of a fear opponent: she reduced the lead against the Croatian to 2: 5 in the head-to-head.

Victoria Asarenka (BLR-30) and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina (KAZ-22) had already qualified for the second semi-final on Tuesday. If Sabalenka and Azarenka win, there will even be a final between two protagonists from Belarus on Saturday. Sabalenka has won both previous matches against Linette, while Azarenka lost the only duel with Rybakina last year in Indian Wells 3:6,4:6.

Before the night session, Tommy Paul had qualified for the duel with Djokovic in the first all-US quarterfinals at a major since 2007. He defeated the only 20-year-old Ben Shelton after 3:06 hours in four sets. For 25-year-old Paul, this means the first Grand Slam semi-final of his career and his first jump into the top 20.

For the first time since Andy Roddick

Paul is the first US professional in the Melbourne semifinals since his childhood idol Andy Roddick in 2009. Australia 2023 will also remain unforgettable for Shelton: After three Challenger victories en suite, he just qualified for his first major, he first had to get a pass exhibited for his first trip abroad ever and now balances with the quarterfinals.

Video: Paul can also count on his mother

“Everyone dreams of reaching the second weekend at a major when they start tennis,” said Paul, but also thought of Shelton and his other US colleagues. “I’m happy for all the guys. (Frances) Tiafoe was in the semifinals at the US Open, now I’m here.” In addition, Paul was happy that he was able to give his mother, who had just flown in, and his girlfriend Paige, influencer and birthday boy, a win.

In the semifinals on Friday, however, this successful run could end: because against Djokovic he is a blatant outsider.

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