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Djokovic says ‘sent message’ with Australian Open mauling

Melbourne (AFP) – Novak Djokovic said he “sent a message” at the Australian Open by thrashing Andrey Rublev on Wednesday to make the semi-finals and edge closer to a 22nd Grand Slam title.

The Serb was in the zone to blitz past the Russian fifth seed 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 on Rod Laver Arena and set up a meeting with Tommy Paul for a place in Sunday’s final.

The unseeded American defeated countryman Ben Shelton 7-6 (8/6), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 in his quarter-final.

Djokovic’s quest for a record-extending 10th Australian Open title was far from smooth at the start, plagued by a hamstring strain suffered en route to the title at Adelaide this month.

The 35-year-old struggled physically in the early rounds but was dominant during his fourth-round demolition of Alex de Minaur and was ruthless once more against Rublev.

“Last two matches, playing against two guys who were in form and to beat them dominantly in three sets is something that I definitely want in this moment, something that sends a message to all my opponents,” he said.

“With this kind of game the confidence level rises, so I feel better on the court as the tournament progresses.

“I’ve been in this situation so many times in my life and career,” he added after reaching a 10th semi-final at Melbourne Park. Only Roger Federer (15) and Jack Crawford (11) have been there more often.

“I’ve never lost a semi-final in the Australian Open, hopefully that will stay the same.”

Victory for the red-hot favourite propelled him into a 44th Grand Slam semi-final to close the gap on Federer’s all-time record 46.

In another astonishing record, he clocked a 26th consecutive match-win at the Australian Open to equal Andre Agassi’s Open-era record for longest streak at the first Grand Slam of the year.

The signs were ominous for Rublev before the match even started.

In contrast to Djokovic’s outstanding record in Melbourne, Rublev — who was taken to five sets by Holger Rune in the fourth round — came into the clash with a 0-6 record in Grand Slam quarter-finals.

After a shaky start when he served double fault to open proceedings, Djokovic quickly settled into a rhythm.

Precision, power

The Russian Rublev, who also sent down a double fault to start, struggled early on.

His serving jitters persisted and when the Serb worked a break point at 2-1 he double-faulted again in response.

Djokovic showed no signs of hamstring trouble to race into a 4-1 lead. He then converted a fifth break point to speed 5-1 clear and clinch the set in 39 minutes.

Rublev had no answers to his precision and power.

Djokovic continued in the same vein in the second set, grabbing his opportunity in game four after a 16-shot rally when Rublev blinked first with a backhand error.

Another break left Rublev frustrated and castigating himself as he slumped two sets down.

He took a bathroom break in between sets, but it didn’t work as Djokovic came out with more venomous shots and broke his serve in the opening game, and never let up.

Djokovic will meet Paul next for the first time and the American is excited at the prospect of facing the Serbian great in his maiden Grand Slam semi-final.

The 35th-ranked Paul will be heavy underdog, but he struck a positive tone.

“I’m really excited, man. I probably have a better chance of winning if it’s Rublev, but to play Novak here in Australia would be awesome,” the 25-year-old American said.

“Obviously he’s pretty comfortable here in Australia. It’s going to be a challenging match.

“But I’m playing some of my best tennis.”

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