Djokovic shrugs off dad drama to reach 10th Australian Open final
Novak Djokovic shrugged off controversy involving his father to reach a record-extending 10th Australian Open final on Friday and set up a blockbuster decider with Greek trailblazer Stefanos Tsitsipas and a battle for the world number one ranking.
Nine-times champion Djokovic kept his perfect semi-final record at Melbourne Park intact with a 7-5 6-1 6-2 win over outgunned American Tommy Paul at Rod Laver Arena where his father Srdjan was a conspicuous absentee.
Earlier on centre court, Tsitsipas saw off Russian 18th seed Karen Khachanov 7-6(2) 6-4 6-7(6) 6-3 to become the first Greek to reach the title-decider in a city boasting the biggest Greek population outside the southern European nation.
Srdjan Djokovic created a distraction for his son ahead of the semi-final after a video emerged showing him posing with fans holding Russian flags, which were banned at Melbourne Park early in the tournament.
Amid criticism from local politicians and the Ukraine embassy, he declined to attend the semi-final, saying he wanted to prevent "disruption" for his son.
For all that, a man in the terraces held up a Ukraine flag when Djokovic served in his direction and put it away when he swapped ends.
Whether or not his father's absence was weighing on him, Djokovic was in a foul mood even as he raced to a 5-1 lead in the first set, repeatedly yelling at his players' box in Serbian.
He bickered with the chair umpire over the time taken to get a towel between points, drawing loud jeers from fans.
Sensing his chance, Paul raised the pressure with some outstanding tennis, breaking the Serb twice and levelling the match at 5-5 after edging Djokovic in a 30-shot rally.
However, that was as good as it got for Paul, as Djokovic knuckled down to win 14 of the last 17 games in a stunning counter-attack 15 years to the day after his first Australian Open title as a 20-year-old.
"I’m really thankful that I still have enough gas in my legs to play at this level on one of the biggest tennis courts in the world," said Djokovic on court.
"I know that without my family and my team, these things wouldn’t be possible."
Tsitsipas earlier savoured a golden afternoon in warm sunshine as he won his first Australian Open semi-final on the fourth attempt.
Sunday's decider will be a re-match of the 2021 French Open final, which Djokovic won from two sets down to leave the Greek heartbroken.
The winner will take the number one ranking from Spain's Carlos Alcaraz.
"I'd like that number," said Tsitsipas.
"It's a cornerstone final ... It's a childhood dream to be capturing the number one spot one day, I'm close.
"I've been wanting for many years now to put Greek tennis on the map, and me and Maria (Sakkari) have done an incredible job."
Tsitsipas can rely on a huge contingent of Greek fans to rival Djokovic's army of Serbian supporters.
They were in full voice as he traded breaks with Khachanov in a see-sawing opening set before he came alive in the tiebreak.
Tsitsipas was rattled by three foot-faults and two time violations on serve but steadied to take the second set.
A break down in the third, Khachanov showed great courage to fight back to 5-5 and take the tiebreak after Tsitsipas blew two match points.
Tsitsipas regrouped, though, and roared to 3-0 in the last set before closing it out in dominant fashion.
It was a bittersweet day for Indian tennis fans as Sania Mirza's bid for the mixed doubles title at her last Grand Slam was thwarted as she and Rohan Bopanna fell 7-6(2) 6-2 to Brazilian pair Luisa Stefani and Rafael Matos in the final.
Mirza, India's most successful women's player, will retire after playing Dubai next month.