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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Tuesday, January 23, 2024


Jannik Sinner raced past Andrey Rublev 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-3 into his first Australian Open semifinal—and a showdown vs. world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

Photo credit: Andy Cheung/Getty

The lines looked like routes on a road map.

Revving up his racquet, Jannik Sinner raced past Andrey Rublev 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-3 into his first Australian Open semifinal—and a showdown vs. world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

Svitolina: Pain and Pride

It's now 15 sets up and 15 sets down for Sinner, who did not play an AO tune-up tournament, but arrived in Melbourne a week early to adapt to the track.

The fourth-seeded Sinner is the only man who has not dropped a set en route to the final four joining Matteo Berrettini (2022) as the second Italian man to reach the Australian Open semifinals.

In the first match of this Melbourne fortnight between two Top 5-ranked men, Sinner red-lined at the right time to win the clash of hard-hitting red heads.

Though both men slammed 34 winners, Sinner saved all eight break points he faced and doubled Rublev in second serve points won (22 to 11) in a sharp two hour, 39-minute victory.

“It's obviously very tough to play against him,” Sinner told Hall of Famer Jim Courier in his on-court interview. “We had some very tough matches already in the past. Today was three sets but I could have lost both.

“First set he had so many break points and I somehow served really well in that one. Everything is so fast kind it's just kind of reaction and then trying to move him a little bit more than I do. I want to thank everyone for staying so long it’s 1:25 it’s always a huge pleasure to play.”

One man’s pleasure is another’s pain.

Rublev dropped to an ignominious 0-10 in Grand Slam quarterfinals, squandering a 5-1 second-set tiebreaker lead as Sinner lit up lines streaking through six straight points.

The blue hard court is a highway to major dreams.

All major roads lead to Grand Slam king Djokovic, who defeated Taylor Fritz 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 to advance to his 11th AO semifinal and record-extending 48th Grand Slam singles semifinal.

Djokovic rides a 33-match AO winning streak into this semifinal showdown vs. Sinner. It’s a rematch of the 2023 Wimbledon semifinal that Djokovic won 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(4).

“The longer the streak goes, the more that kind of confidence, also expectations built, but also the willingness to really walk the extra mile, so to say,” Djokovic told the media in Melbourne. “Yeah, I just love playing in this court. It's been "the" court for me in my career.”

Though the 36-year-old Serbian superstar has won four of six meetings vs. Sinner. The 22-year-old Italian prevailed in two of their last three matches and has been the most imposing player throughout this fortnight, though he seemed to suffer a strained abdominal tonight.

Sinner knows what it takes to defeat Djokovic on hard court. Their semifinal match will come three months after Sinner saved three match points sparking a three-game surge in shocking Djokovic 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 to level Italy with Serbia, 1-1, in the best-of-three-match Davis Cup semifinals last November.

The question is: Can Sinner topple the Grand Slam king for the first time in a best-of-five-set match?

“I’m really lucky to face him again; this is one of the biggest tournaments in the world,” Sinner said. “Happy that I can play against No. 1 in the world.

“He won here some times so it’s going to be tough. The only thing I can control is I will give my 100 percent. I will fight for every ball and then we will see what the outcome will be.”

The outcome was in doubt when Sinner stared down a 1-5 deficit in the breaker, but he battered the Russian’s inferior backhand wing and bolted some forehand winners to take the tiebreaker and deepen Rublev’s quarterfinal slide.

“I just tried 5-1 to change ends, it was a little bit windy, so I knew I had a little bit of an advantage,” Sinner said of his breaker comeback. “Somehow breaking him once and then twice I was at 5-4 on serve.

“This kind of moment I really love to play. This is why I practice for and I’m really excited when we have these pressure points on. I’m just trying to stay aggressive. It went my way today so I’m really happy.”

There’s no crime being battered in backhand exchanges against Sinner—the lanky Italian owns one of the game’s biggest backhands—the transgression Rublev continuously commits is his sheer refusal to adjust to that pattern of doom.

Often, when Sinner played deep down the middle, Rublev resisted running around his backhand letting his favored forehand fly.

The red-haired Russian cites Rafa Nadal as his tennis role model, yet the king of clay always seems to find a way to hit his favored forehand on the biggest points—regardless of how much running he has to do to set up. In contrast, Rublev is too content to trade two-handers with Sinner.

Tactical self-sabotage sparked predictable price: punishment.

Two hours, 26-minutes into the match, a red-faced Rublev was feeling the physical toll of extended rallies.

Battered off balance by a Sinner barrage, Rublev shoveled a forehand into net to face break point midway through the third set.

Pushing Rublev into the corner, Sinner spun a clean forehand winner down the line breaking for 4-2.

Sinner slammed a bounce smash for match points and closed with a final forehand winner.

The road to a maiden major final runs through defending champion Djokovic and Sinner knows he’ll have to buckle up and bring the gas and complete attack to snap the Serbian superstar’s AO winning streak.

"I'm looking forward to it, to be honest," Sinner said. "It's gonna be tough. This, I know. I will control the controllable, which is giving 100%, having the right attitude, fighting for every ball.

"And then we see the outcome, no? More than this, I cannot do. Doesn't really matter who my opponent is. So I'm really looking forward to it and trying to prepare it in the best possible way."


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