Djokovic extinguishes Fritz fire to make Australian Open semifinal

Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts after defeating Taylor Fritz of the U.S. in their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championships at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, on January 23, 2024.
| Photo Credit: AP

Novak Djokovic continued his dominance over Taylor Fritz but not before a big test as he sealed a 7-6(3) 4-6 6-2 6-3 win over the 12th-seeded American on a steamy Tuesday at the Australian Open to move into a record-extending 48th Grand Slam semi-final.

The 36-year-old defending champion had beaten Fritz in all eight of their previous meetings, including a five-sets win at Melbourne Park in 2021 and a crushing victory at the U.S. Open last year but he was pushed to the limit on Rod Laver Arena.

“I suffered a lot first couple of sets, also due to his high quality tennis. He was serving well, he was staying close to the line and suffocating me from the back of the court,” Djokovic said in an on-court interview with Nick Kyrgios.

“I was on my back foot for most of the rallies. It was difficult to find the right timing. It was extremely hot while the sun was still out there. Physically very draining, emotionally as well.”

Djokovic has taken his time to get going at this year’s tournament as he seeks an 11th title and 25th major to surpass Margaret Court’s haul, and the top-seeded Serb was unable to break in a marathon first game that had nine deuces.

Fritz saved eight break points and went toe to toe with his opponent in energy sapping conditions before setting up two set points but Djokovic saved them both to force a tiebreak, where he took his level up a few notches.

The Serb cupped his ear as the crowd roared when he fired a superb cross-court winner to earn five set points and bagged the early lead in the contest after 84 minutes.

Fritz broke early in the next set and bailed himself out of trouble several times with stinging backhand winners as Djokovic looked to respond, but the 26-year-old American held firm and drew level at one set all with a comfortable hold.

‘Get some popcorn’

Djokovic cooled off by placing ice packs on his head in the third set but he was only comfortable after finally breaking his opponent on his 16th attempt en route to a 2-0 lead, which gave him the platform to push on and win the set.

“The conversion of the break points was really poor but at the end of the day, I managed to break him when it mattered in the third and the fourth,” Djokovic said.

“I think I upped my game probably midway through the third set to the end. I served extremely well, I probably had more aces than he did (20-16) which is a surprise stat.”

Fritz appeared to struggle with his movement at times in the fourth set and Djokovic moved in for the kill to break in the sixth game before fending off a comeback attempt from Fritz to go through.

Djokovic will next play Jannik Sinner or Andrey Rublev in the next round and can expect another tricky match.

“I watched Rublev the other night against Alex De Minaur, five sets, some of the quickest, gruelling exchanges I’ve seen on Rod Laver for years,” Djokovic added.

“Sinner, he’s playing the best tennis of his life, he had a fantastic end to last year … I can expect him to play on the highest level but hey, let’s get some popcorn and chill on the sofa and enjoy the match.”

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