The much-anticipated quarter-final featuring the world number one Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev, the sixth seed, didn’t really live up to expectations.
There were lots of nerves out there, emotionally I feel a little drained, it was a great battle, tough luck to Sacha. We pushed ourselves to the limits. Novak Djokovic
Maybe the lack of atmosphere in the empty Rod Laver Arena affected the two players who were playing with alleged injuries – the Serb with an abdominal strain which he led many to believe a few days ago was a tear, and the German wearing what looked like a large thick plaster over his stomach for some unknown injury or as a cautionary measure.
It meant that the two produced periods of tentative play leaving the final outcome very much in the balance until the latter stages. However Djokovic’s driving ambition to win a record ninth Australian Open title, eventually pushed him over the finish line, 6-7(6) 6-2 6-4 7-6(6) .
The scene was set when the Serb dropped the opening game of the match leaving Zverev in control until the tenth when he finally broke back after saving a set point in the previous game.
Zverev finally captured the first set after 59-minutes, in the tie-break which saw five mini-breaks before he finally converted on his third set point.
But then the pendulum swung to the Serb as Zverev, over the next 29-minutes, lost his intensity to allow the top seed to go on and level the match.
In the third it was Djokovic’s turn to go through a dip in play as Zverev broke to go into a 4-1 lead and looked set to go on and claim it but then, in frustration after a poor return he annihilated his racket which delayed the proceedings for some minutes as a ball-girl was called in to sweep up the debris with pan and brush.
That incident turned the tide in the third, breaking Zverev’s concentration for in the seventh game he delivered two double faults, the first from him in the match, to lose the advantage and then lost his serve to love two games later allowing Djokovic to serve out.
Again, in the fourth Zverev, jumped into a lead only to lose it in the fifth game with the two now hoping the other would make the vital error in their favour only for it to all hinge on the tiebreak.
But unlike the first set, this time tentative play dominated with Djokovic finally gaining his second match-point from a Zverev volleying error and then served his 23rd ace to clinch the victory and keep alive his dream of that ninth AO title and narrowing the gap to Nadal and Federer in the table of grand slam wins.
“After the tiebreak I felt like I started moving better, I started serving better and ended up with more aces than him which is a miracle against someone like Sacha,” Djokovic, who now faces the Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev for a place in the final, said.
“There were lots of nerves out there, emotionally I feel a little drained, it was a great battle, tough luck to Sacha. We pushed ourselves to the limits.”
With 114th-ranked Karatsev up next, it would be a huge surprise if Djokovic is not featuring in Sunday’s final but will not be taking the Russian lightly.
“To be honest I hadn’t seen him play before this Australian Open but now I’ve seen him,” he said.
“He’s a very strong guy, physical, moves well and has a lot of firepower from the back of the court. He has a great backhand, serves well and has nothing to lose.”