Sinner ends Djokovic Grand Slam history bid at Australian Open

Italy’s Jannik Sinner hits a return against Serbia’s Novak Djokovic during their men’s singles semi-final match on day 13 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 26, 2024. AFP

Jannik Sinner ended Novak Djokovic’s bid for a record 25th Grand Slam title on Friday, snapping the Serb’s astonishing 33-match winning run at Melbourne Park to set up a final against Daniil Medvedev.

The Italian fourth seed was unfazed by dropping his first set of the tournament against the king of Rod Laver Arena, winning the semi-final 6-1, 6-2, 6-7 (6/8), 6-3.

Russian third seed Medvedev rallied from two sets down for the second time in the tournament to beat Alexander Zverev and make Sunday’s title match.

Ten-time champion Djokovic fought off a match point in the third-set tie-break but racked up 54 unforced errors and failed to create a single break point in an sub-par display by his stellar standards.

“It was a very tough match,” said Sinner. “I started off really well. He missed in the first two sets. I felt like he was not feeling that great on court so I just tried to keep pushing.

“Then in the third set I had match point and I missed the forehand but this is tennis. I just tried to be ready for the next set, which I started off really well.”

Sinner, 22, said he felt he had learned from defeat to Djokovic in last year’s Wimbledon semi-finals — the furthest he had previously gone at a Grand Slam — and had been looking forward to the match.

“I think we play really similar — you have to return as many balls as possible, he’s such an incredible server,” he said. “So I was just trying to push him around a little bit. I’m not going to tell you the tactics.”

Djokovic admitted he was “outplayed” by a man 14 years his junior.

“I was, in a way, shocked with my level, you know, in a bad way,” he said. “There was not much I was doing right in the first two sets.

“I guess this is one of the worst Grand Slam matches I’ve ever played, at least that I remember.”

But the 36-year-old insisted it was not the “beginning of the end” and vowed to return for another shot at the title next year.

Djokovic record bid

Djokovic, who had not tasted defeat at the Australian Open since 2018, lacked his usual metronomic consistency as the super-cool Sinner raced into a 3-0 lead.

The Italian broke again in the sixth game and seized the first set when Djokovic went long with a forehand.

The decibel count on centre court rose at the start of the second set and the top seed settled himself with a convincing hold.

But his error count continued to mount and Sinner, who had beaten Djokovic in two of their previous three encounters, broke in the third game to establish a vice-like grip.

The defending champion urged the crowd to come to his aid and cries of “Nole” rang around the packed stadium but he was broken again and slipped two sets down.

He saved a match point in a tie-break following a third set that went with serve before clinching it at his first opportunity and raising a clenched fist.

But the Serbian’s serve came under renewed pressure again in the fourth set and he cracked to give Sinner a 3-1 lead, with the Italian keeping his nerve to earn victory and end an era at Melbourne Park.

In the later match, sixth seed Zverev appeared to be on his way to a second Grand Slam final when he won the first two sets.

Medvedev, 27, was two points away from defeat in the fourth set tie-break but toughed it out to pull level.

He engineered two crucial breaks in the decider to win 5-7, 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 in four hours 18 minutes, moving through to his third final in Melbourne.

“Physically and mentally, five sets is tough and many times I was not strong enough, so I’m happy,” said the Russian, who has played three five-setters so far.

“A month ago I wanted to change to be stronger mentally and think less about one guy in the crowd who screams something or when I think the referee has done something wrong. I’m still far from perfect, but I’m trying.”

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