Djokovic beats resilient Raonic to set up Federer showdown

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Novak Djokovic set up a mouth-watering repeat of last year’s classic Wimbledon final against Roger Federer by overcoming an obdurate Milos Raonic in straight sets on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday night.

With Federer having to dig deep to save seven match points in an epic encounter against Tennys Sandgren, there were no such problems for the relentless Serb, who ran out a 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 victor and has now won the past 13 sets he’s played here.

Speaking after his victory, a visibly emotional Djokovic was quick to pay tribute to his good friend Kobe Bryant, who was tragically killed in a helicopter accident on Sunday night.

“I was fortunate to have a personal relationship with him over the past ten years and when I needed advice and some support, he was there for me,” Djokovic told John McEnroe on court afterwards. “He was my mentor, he was my friend, and it is just heart-breaking to see and to hear what has happened to him and his daughter.”

The Serb was always a heavy favourite to get past big-serving Raonic, having led their respective head-to-heads 9-0 coming into the Australian Open. But the Canadian was also coming into some great form in Melbourne, having dispatched Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round before bundling Marin Cilic out the tournament in straight sets.

Yet, in a match billed as best server versus best returner, it was the returner who came out of the traps the quicker, Djokovic whittling out three break points in only Raonic’s second service game as the Canadian’s first serve percentage dropped to an alarming 30%.

The serve returned when Raonic needed it to dig him out of trouble, but with the game plan always to shorten the point as quickly as possible, easier on his own huge serve, it became a very different proposition when trying to out-rally the marathon man at his own game. Three love games for Djokovic testament to the challenge facing Raonic.

The Canadian’s chances were always going to few and far between if Djokovic found his ‘A Game’, but some big hitting off both wings gave him a first break point of his own in game 7, before Djokovic finally triumphed in a set he dominated, taking it with his tenth break point and fourth set point as Raonic shanked a forehand wide.

The breakthrough under his belt, Djokovic slipped into another gear, pulling his opponent around the court to break again in the fourth game of the second set with a whipped crosscourt forehand. It was the straw that broke the Raonic back, Djokovic serving out for a two-set and seemingly unassailable lead.

“The first couple of sets went exactly the way I wanted,” added Djokovic afterwards. “One break was enough each set, I was quite comfortable serving which was obviously very encouraging. Playing against Milos I knew that probably the two key elements in the game would be the return, how many balls I could get back in play and try and get into the rally and get him moving around the court and the second one would be how efficiently I hit my spots.

Raonic hadn’t been broken in 12 sets coming into the quarter final clash but now found himself two sets down and broken twice. He also had only once before come back from two sets down to win, against David Goffin at Wimbledon in 2016.

And, despite a third set tie-break, there would be no such repeat performance on this occasion, as the seven-time champ wrapped up victory in two hours and 50 minutes, despite some late struggles with a contact lens problem.

“I want to apologise to Milos once again because it is not something that you see often, that a player goes out and it was not a change over moment and I apologise to the crowd as well. It was not intentional or tactical, it was just something I had to do because those few games I really couldn’t see much and had to change my lens.

“It went pretty well for two sets and I was fortunate to get out of trouble in the third, it was a perfect tie break and great performance.”

Next up for Djokovic is a meeting with his old rival Federer and again, the Serb will enter the match as favourite, especially if the tournament stats are any guideline. Djokovic has only lost serve twice in five rounds in Melbourne and won more than 90 per cent of his first-serve points in his second and third-round victories.

“I have tremendous respect for Roger and everything he has achieved in this sport. He is one of the all time greats and definitely one of my two biggest rivals. I have been saying this many times and will repeat it again. The match-ups against Roger and Rafa have made me the player I am today, so I am grateful I have had so many great matches against those guys and I hope I will get to at least one match point! Let the better player win.”

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