Tennis

Novak Djokovic has ‘huge respect’ for Roger Federer after s-final win

Serb praises ailing rival after outplaying him to reach his eighth Melbourne final

Novak Djokovic paid "huge respect" to old rival Roger Federer yesterday, after he swept past the ailing star and into a record eighth Australian Open final to move closer to his 17th Grand Slam crown.

In the 50th instalment of one of sport's greatest rivalries, the Serb shrugged off a tentative start to reinforce his recent dominance, showing no mercy to the injury-hit Swiss maestro in a 7-6 (7/1), 6-4, 6-3 win.

He will play either fifth seed Dominic Thiem or seventh-ranked German Alexander Zverev in Sunday's final.

But it will take a monumental effort to prise another title from the 32-year-old. Djokovic has won all his seven Melbourne finals.

If any extra motivation was needed, winning on Sunday will see the Serb reclaim the No. 1 ranking, after Thiem sent Rafael Nadal packing in the last eight.

"It's never easy to play Roger. I mean, obviously he was hurting. You could see it in his movement. Respect to him for trying his best," said defending champion Djokovic, who is into his 26th Grand Slam final.

"After losing the first set, he got a medical (time-out). He came back and played all the way through. It's unfortunate that he was not at his best."

It was the fourth time Djokovic had beaten Federer at the semi-final stage in Melbourne, after 2008, 2011 and 2016.

GROIN INJURY

Federer, the 2018 champion, came into the match carrying a groin injury that he picked up in his five-set, come-from-behind quarter-final win over American Tennys Sandgren.

He was seen around Melbourne Park before the match with tape on his upper right leg and there were even rumours that he might pull out.

But that is not in the 38-year-old's nature - he has given up only four walkovers in his long career and has never retired in more than 1,500 matches, facts that Djokovic said were "amazing" and deserved "huge respect".

Federer said he took a day off after the Sandgren match and barely warmed up for Djokovic, but felt he was in good enough shape to at least give the Serb a run for his money.

Despite the disappointment, the Swiss great believes he is still a force to be reckoned with.

He said he had no plans to retire and insisted he was still in good enough shape.

"Yes, I do believe that," the world No. 3 said, when asked if he was confident about adding to his 20 Grand Slam titles.

"Having the year that I had last year, also with what I have in my game, how I'm playing, I do feel that, yeah."

Federer, who reached last year's Roland Garros semi-finals and lost a five-set Wimbledon final to Djokovic, said he hopes to return to Melbourne next year for a crack at a seventh title.

"You never know what the future holds. Especially my age, you don't know," he said.

"I'm confident. I'm happy with how I'm feeling. I got through a good, nice training block. No plans to retire.

"From that standpoint, we'll see how the year goes, how everything is with the family.

"We'll go from there. Of course, I hope to be back." - AFP

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