MELBOURNE, Australia ( Associated Press) — Novak Djokovic was barely serving the first set of his Australian Open quarterfinal matchup against Andrey Rublev when the player named to face Tommy Paul, the winner of that match, appeared for a press conference.
“I’ll have a better chance of winning against Rublev,” Paul said with a smile. “But to have Novak playing in Australia would be fantastic.”
Well, that’s what he’ll get in Friday’s semi-finals at Rod Laver Arena.
Djokovic extended his winning streak to 26 games at Melbourne Park on Wednesday, beating fifth seed Rublev of Russia 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. He tied Andre Agassi in 1968 for the longest winning streak by an individual in the country in the open era.
With a 28th win against Paul in Sunday’s final and another against either Stefanos Tsitsipas or Karen Khachanov, Djokovic will extend his record to a 10th Australian Open championship. He will also reach his 22nd Grand Slam tournament and equal Rafael Nadal’s record in men’s tennis.
But it goes without saying that there is a gap during Djokovic’s streak. He didn’t play the Australian Open last year, something that makes him “extra” motivated in this edition.
Why didn’t you play the last Australian Open?
Short answer: You have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Broad answer: Djokovic sought permission to enter the country and play tournaments despite a strict protocol and received an exemption that required him to be vaccinated. On landing, he was detained at the airport, his visa was canceled and he was shifted to a hotel for expatriates. A judge reinstated her visa and ordered her to leave the hotel, arguing that she was unable to contact her lawyers. The country’s immigration minister revoked the visa again, citing “public interest”. Djokovic’s appeal was rejected and he was deported. He faced a three-year veto to enter the country due to a revoked visa.
How can you play this year?
The 35-year-old Serb has yet to find a COVID-19 vaccine and says he will not, regardless of the number of tournaments he misses. But Australia changed its government, health protocols were changed and the current immigration minister granted them visas. For now, the United States still does not allow entry of non-vaccinated foreigners, which would prevent Djokovic from competing at the US Open for the second year in a row.
How did the audience welcome you?
From day one in Melbourne, Djokovic has received affection, with the exception of a few fans who boo him and try to pelt him with insults. Dozens of Serbian flags stand tall during their matches, as do banners reading GOAT – “The best in history”.
Djokovic started each game hesitantly due to discomfort in his left foot. After playing far from his best, undergoing “a lot” of treatment and painkillers, he has been sensational in his last games. They have won 11 straight sets losing just 27 games. “If it’s level, I think he takes the title,” Alex de Minaur said after his 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 loss to Djokovic. On Wednesday, the Serb said his last two wins “send a message to all my opponents who are still in draws.”
can you win
Key Facts: Djokovic is 18-0 in Melbourne in semifinals and finals. He is one of those men who can claim a Grand Slam title. Tsitsipas is the only player among the semifinalists to have reached the final of a major. The Greek had lost to Djokovic in the final of the 2021 French Open, having blown a two-set lead. One would think that Tsitsipas is someone who would want to forget about what happened, but it turns out Djokovic was the one who was not remembering it the other day: “Have you never played a final or am I wrong?” After being reminded of Roland Garros by the press, Djokovic replied: “Okay. I was wrong”.
As for his head-to-head matches against semifinalists, Djokovic has never faced Paul; He is 10-2 against Tsitsipas (last nine wins) and 8-1 against Khachanov (last seven wins).
“If I keep playing like this, the fact is I have a good chance of becoming champion,” Djokovic warned, referring to American Paul, ranked 35.