No male player in history has won more singles titles at the ‘Happy Slam’ than seven-time champion Djokovic and the 32-year-old has now claimed sole ownership of the most Australian Open final appearances (8) after beating his great rival 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 6-3 in two hours and 18 minutes on the Rod Laver Arena. He is yet to lose a final at his most successful major and he will enter Sunday finale against Alexander Zverev or Dominic Thiem, who meet on Friday as the overwhelming favourite to win a 17th Slam.
In his 50th career meeting with Federer, Djokovic recorded his 30th win over top-five opposition at Slam level and booked his spot in a 26th Grand Slam final.
There were fears Federer, 38, wouldn’t even make it to the start line against the world No. 2 who has now won 27 of their 50 encounters and he performed admirably given the groin injury he was carrying heading into the contest. Federer was given little chance of beating Djokovic, who will return to world No. 1 with the title, before the match, with bookmakers rating his chances at about 6/1 something that can’t happen too often in his career.
But after saving two break points in a seven-minute opening service game, it was Federer who broke, hitting a sublime backhand pass to move 2-0 up. As has been the case so often in Djokovic’s career, his opponent’s joy was short lived. The best returner to ever play the sport hit back immediately. A third consecutive break followed, however, with Federer continuing to apply pressure on the return. This time, he consolidated with three more aces.
Djokovic’s struggles on serve continued, falling 0-40 down in the sixth game of the match, but he recovered admirably to hold and deny Federer a 5-1 lead. Federer had been playing freely, with little pressure on his shoulders, but nerves reared their ugly head when he came to serve out the first set. Djokovic sensed the tension and broke to love. The Swiss great recovered to force a breaker but Djokovic’s class suddenly shone through. A remarkable backhand drop-shot put him 6-1 up and he clinched the set on the next point.
Federer left the court for treatment on a back issue at the close of the set, with Djokovic also calling on the doctor to take some medication. Djokovic had been guilty of failing to covert break point chances in the first and two more came and went in Federer’s first service game of the second. From there, both men were largely in control on serve but Djokovic again raised his level when it really mattered, sprinting to a short ball from Federer and passing him with a deft flick to take a two-set lead.
If the odds were stacked against him before the match, there was a sense Federer would need a miracle to win from that position. Djokovic had only lost once from two sets up in 207 previous Grand Slam matches. Sure enough, another break came as Djokovic continued to turn the screw, and he soon put the contest beyond Federer’s reach. While Djokovic is an experienced hand in Australian Open finals, his next opponent will play their first. Thiem, who beat world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in a quarter-finals, is a two-time French Open runner-up. This is Zverev’s first Grand Slam semi-final.