Jannik Sinner has won the biggest match of his young career as he dethroned the king of Melbourne Park in a scintillating affair.
The Italian arrived into the contest having beaten Djokovic twice in the space of 10 days last year at the World Tour Finals and the Davis Cup semi-finals, albeit on indoor the hard courts. The last time the pair met at a Grand Slam was last year’s Wimbledon semi-final where the world No.1 won in straight sets.
These are completely different conditions though, and Sinner got off to a dream start to take an early 3-0 lead and exploited the unusual errors flying off his opponent’s racquet in a rather bizarre opening few games.
Djokovic was forced to defend at one break point in his next two service games, succumbing to another loss of serve and incredibly dropping the opening set 6-1. In his eleventh Australian Open semi-final showing, this was the first time that the Serbian had lost the first set.
Undoubtedly one of the most underwhelming sets of tennis that Djokovic has produced in his career, two early double faults and 15 unforced errors compared to Sinner’s four was an indication that the 10-time champion at Melbourne Park had a serious battle on his hands like never before.
Just as you thought Djokovic would wake up from a sluggish start, it was more of the same from Sinner in the following set as the world No.4 had the best mover that has ever graced the game on strings, heavily dictating the pace through his power off both wings.
Down a break once again, Djokovic’s supporters halted the match for 30 seconds as they shouted “NOVAK, NOVAK, NOVAK” to provide an ounce of energy for their hero, but Sinner stayed composed and cool-headed to lead by two sets with another double-break.
In a jaw-dropping statistic, the only times that Djokovic has dropped three or more games in the first two sets of a Grand Slam was against Marat Safin in 2005 and Rafael Nadal in 2020.
Breaks of serve were non-existent in the third set as both players remained resilient, but there was a scary moment at 5-5 40-40 when fans in the top row behind the chair umpire called for help as a spectator required medical attention.
After the short delay, a third-set tiebreak was needed to separate the two. Djokovic had won 25 of the past 30 tiebreaks dating back to last year’s Rome Masters and is known for being mentally locked in during these intense moments.
Down a mini-break twice, it was these particular scenarios that Sinner’s coach, Darren Cahill, has worked tireless hours in improving the mental side of the game which helped the 22-year-old get the match back on serve to have a match point at 6-5. However, Djokovic reminded everyone why he’s so tough to break down mentally, saving a match point and forcing a fourth set to get the fans standing on their feet.
Despite that, Sinner was always the better player on the day, not facing a single break point and served flawlessly under pressure. An incredible shot around the net was an indication that it was the Italian’s time to shine. Indeed it was, as Sinner served it out to reach his first-ever Grand Slam final, winning 6-1, 6-2, 6-7(6), 6-3 in three hours and 22 minutes.
Djokovic admitted to the press that he was not impressed with the way he played throughout the match.
“I was, in a way, shocked with my level, you know, in a bad way. 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,” said Djokovic.
Sinner, who will face either Daniil Medvedev or Alexander Zverev in the final on Sunday, explained the emotions he was feeling during the post-match press conference.
“I just tried to start again the set in a good way. I was serving, I hold serve, and I was up already in the score, no? So I tried to stay really focused about the goal I had today, which was a good game plan, and I was hoping that the execution was working, and that's it,” he said.
“Obviously fourth set when I broke him, it was a positive feeling. Happy that I could finish the match.”