Dismantling high-flying opponents back-to-back in the latter stages of a Grand Slam is no mean feat, even for an ATP Tour great. Yet Novak Djokovic is not getting carried away after backing up his masterful fourth-round Australian Open display against Alex de Minaur by cruising past World No. 6 Andrey Rublev on Wednesday night in Melbourne.
“I can’t really say that this is as confident that I ever felt because I’ve had some incredible seasons,” said Djokovic after racing to a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 quarter-final win against Rublev. “[Some incredible] years here at the Australian Open, some matches that are really unforgettable for me. [It is] tough to compare because I’ve been fortunate to really live through a lot of success at the Australian Open.
“But [the] last two matches, playing against two guys that are really good players, in-form players, to beat them dominantly in three sets… That is definitely something that I want in this moment. Something that sends a message to all my opponents remaining in the draw.”
Djokovic is 10-0 for 2023 after downing Rublev. Despite being hampered by a left hamstring issue, the 35-year-old has made relatively seamless progress to the last four in Melbourne, where he can tie Rafael Nadal’s record of 22 Grand Slam crowns and return to World No. 1 by lifting the trophy. He now finds himself in a familiar position at the opening major of the season.
“With this kind of game, of course the confidence level rises… I feel good on the court, better and better as the tournament progresses,” said Djokovic. “I’ve been in this situation in so many times in my life, in my career, [and] never lost a semi-final at the Australian Open. Hopefully that will stay the same.
“So far, I have a perfect score on Australian hard courts [this year], in Adelaide and here. I’ve been playing better and better. I couldn’t ask for a better situation to be in at the moment.”
Next up for Djokovic as he chases a record-extending 10th Australian Open title is Tommy Paul, now up to a career-high No. 19 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. It will be a maiden tour-level meeting between the two, but Djokovic does not expect any surprises when he lines up against the American on Friday on Rod Laver Arena.
“I know how he plays,” said Djokovic of the 25-year-old Paul. “I never faced him on the court, [but] he’s been around for a few years. I watched him play quite a bit, especially during this tournament. He’s been playing probably tennis of his life.
“[He is a] very explosive, very dynamic player. Quick, very solid backhand. Likes to step in, dictate the point with the forehand. Great, great service motion… [A] very complete player. He’s got a coach [Brad Stine] that has been around with some top players for many years.
“[It is a] first [Grand Slam] semi-final for him, so of course he doesn’t have much to lose. I’m sure he’s going to go out trying to play his best tennis.”
Paul’s countrymen Sebastian Korda and Ben Shelton also reached the last eight in Melbourne, marking the first time three American men have reached the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam since 2005. There are set to be 10 Americans in the Top 50 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings on Monday, and the 92-time tour-level titlist Djokovic welcomed the emergence of a strong group of players from a nation that will host 11 tour-level events in 2023.
“Look, [the United States] is an extremely important country for our sport,” said the 92-time tour-level titlist. “We have some of the biggest tournaments in the world played there, in the North American continent. I think it is important that we see successful American men and women doing well.
“Historically, America has always produced top players. Now you have a list of maybe four or five young players that are knocking on the door of the top level. I think that’s great for our sport. We want to see young, successful players that are coming from a big country like [the United States], of course.”