Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates defeating David Ferrer
of Spain in their men's singles semi-final match at the
Australian Open in Melbourne. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
Novak Djokovic installed himself as red-hot favourite for
a third straight Australian Open title with a semi-final
demolition of David Ferrer after Victoria Azarenka had
controversially set up a final against Li Na.
Serbian world number one Djokovic was brutally dominant as he
pulverised the Spanish fourth seed 6-2 6-2 6-1 in 89 minutes
in Rod Laver Arena to race into Sunday's final against Roger
Federer or Andy Murray.
"This was definitely one of the best matches of my career,"
he said. "Tonight I just played incredible."
China's Li could only be less convincing despite the
impressive 6-2 6-2 win over Russia's 2008 champion Maria
Sharapova but it was the second women's semi-final that
provided the main talking point of the day.
There was no doubt that defending champion Azarenka was a
worthy 6-1 6-4 winner over American teenager Sloane Stephens
but the spectre of gamesmanship was raised when the
Belarussian took a lengthy medical timeout after failing to
convert five match points.
"I almost did the choke of the year right now," the world
number one said at courtside after she had wrapped up her
place in Saturday's final.
"At 5-3, having so many chances, couldn't close it out but
I'm glad I could close it out. Nerves got into me for sure."
Stephens, playing in her first grand slam semi-final after
upsetting Serena Williams on Wednesday, was not about to make
an issue of it and Azarenka clarified her comments in the
face of a barrage of questions at her post-match news
"I'm telling you what happened right now honestly, that my
back was bothering me," Azarenka said, blaming a rib injury
for the problem. "It took me too long of a time to call the
trainer, which was my mistake.
"I took it to the point where I couldn't breathe, which was
(caused by) my back problem, and I couldn't really figure out
what was going on on the court.
"I was really panicking, not because I couldn't convert my
match point. That's not the case," she added.
Former men's number four Jonas Bjorkman was among many who
took to social media to call for a change to the rules over
"Azarenka took a medical timeout after all her missing
matchpoints or because of an injury? Time to change that
rule! No sportsmanship there!," he tweeted.
Djokovic looked like he barely wanted to take a break even at
changeovers as he delivered a one-sided masterpiece of a
performance against the fifth best player in men's tennis.
The 25-year-old Serbian won 91 percent of his first serve
points, converted all seven of his break points and hit 30
winners as he thrashed Ferrer, who will rise to number four
in the world on Monday in the absence of his injured
compatriot Rafa Nadal.
"I have a great feeling about myself on the court at this
moment," Djokovic said. "Now I have two days off before the
finals which gives me enough time to get ready and recover
for the finals."
Perhaps deciding that he had not spent enough time on the
main showcourt, Djokovic later reappeared during a seniors
doubles match dressed as a doctor to give Henri Leconte mock
While Djokovic's performance had the tennis purists purring,
Li's victory would have had the tournament's marketing
department grinning from ear to ear.
The self-titled "Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific" has never
had an Asian singles champion and Li, whose first trip to the
Melbourne Park final ended in defeat to Kim Clijsters in
2011, has a second chance to put that right.
"At the beginning of the match I was nervous," said the
30-year-old Chinese. "I was happy to be back in the semis
"I'm really hungry for the title," the former French Open
champion added. "I think this time should be maybe a
Second seed Sharapova had carved her way ruthlessly through
the draw at Melbourne Park, conceding only nine games on her
way to the semi-finals.
Li, reinvigorated by Justine Henin's former coach Carlos
Rodriguez, has also been in impressive form this year and
will be quietly confident that she has the measure of
Certainly, on Thursday, the Chinese showed none of the mental
frailties that have dogged her in the past as she broke the
Russian in her first service game and never looked back.
"When your opponent is always up and ahead, it's always a
little bit mentally easier for them to keep that going," said
"If I would have taken those chances and clawed my way back
and made it a bit tougher for her, I'm sure she would have
thought a little bit more. But I certainly didn't make her
think about anything."