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Novak starts to sizzle again

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The Serbian world number one eased into his ninth decider at Melbourne Park with a 6-3 6-4 6-2 win.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic in action during his semi-final match against Russia’s Aslan Karatsev. Crowds returned to the Australian Open on Thursday after a five-day snap lockdown was lifted following a fresh outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). picture: Reuters, Asanka Brendon Ratnayake

MELBOURNE – Defending champion Novak Djokovic declared himself fighting fit for the Australian Open final after ending the incredible run of Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev with his “best match” of the tournament on Thursday.

The Serbian world number one eased into his ninth decider at Melbourne Park with a 6-3 6-4 6-2 win under the lights at Rod Laver Arena and will battle either Stefanos Tsitsipas or Daniil Medvedev for the title.

“This is the best I felt during the entire tournament,” he told Jim Courier on court.

“Felt great, I could swing through the ball, no pain, just best match so far, and it came at the right time and I’m thrilled to feel this way. Recovery is priority right now. I’m feeling the ball well, I’m playing well.

“I had enough match play, enough practice so right now it’s just gathering all the necessary energy for the most important match of the Australian Open.”

Meanwhile, earlier yesterday, Naomi Osaka ended Serena Williams’s bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title with an imperious 6-3 6-4 win yesterday, a victory that booked her spot in her second Australian Open final and left the American great in tears.

Serena Williams of the US reacts during her semi final match against Japan’s Naomi Osaka on Thursday. Picture: Reuters, Asanka Brendon Ratnayake

In a rematch of their tumultuous 2018 US Open decider, Japan’s Osaka underlined her status as the new queen of women’s tennis and soaked up the cheers from the Rod Laver Arena crowd as fans returned to the Grand Slam after a five-day lockdown.

“It’s just always an honour to play her and I just didn’t want to go out really dud. I just wanted to try my best,” she said after her 75-minute match on a steamy afternoon.

“I was a little kid watching her play and just to be on the court playing against her is a dream.”

Osaka, the 2019 champion, will meet Jennifer Brady, who ensured there would be at least one American in the final after battling to a 6-4 3-6 6-4 win over Karolina Muchova in yesterday’s other semi-final.

It will be a rematch of last year’s US Open semi-final, where Osaka edged Brady in three sets on the way to her third Grand Slam triumph.

Williams, however, exited in tears after an error-strewn match and with a question mark over her future.

The 39-year-old, who returned to the tour in 2018 after taking time away from the game to give birth to daughter Alexis Olympia, cut her post-match news conference short when she broke down after being asked whether it was a bad day at the office.

“I had so many opportunities … it was just … I made too many mistakes there and easy mistakes,” said the American. ”Not like … I was on the run or anything. They were just easy, easy mistakes.

“I don’t know. I’m done,” she added before getting up to leave the room.

Brady kept the US flag flying, though, as she steadied in the late match to book her first Grand Slam final.

After needing five match points to break Muchova’s resistance, Brady gets to continue a wild Australian adventure that began with 14 days in hard quarantine in the lead-up.

Reuters