Djokovic into final after straight-sets victory

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Roger Federer’s record run of 10 consecutive appearances in Grand Slam finals is over. The 26-year-old Swiss, seeking his 13th Grand Slam title, was outplayed and outrun as Novak Djokovic, the world No 3, won their Australian Open semi-final 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 here today.

In Sunday’s final Djokovic will go in search of his first Grand Slam title against the unseeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat Rafael Nadal in straight sets yesterday. It will be the first Grand Slam final not to feature Federer or Nadal since Marat Safin won the title here three years ago.

Federer, playing in his 15th consecutive Grand Slam semi-final, played tentatively, made uncharacteristic forehand errors and moved without his usual speed and freedom, while Djokovic was consistent throughout. The 20-year-old Serb’s serve was a particularly powerful weapon and repeatedly got him out of trouble, while the power and depth of his ground strokes consistently kept Federer at the back of the court.

Djokovic, who lost in straight sets to Federer in their last meeting in the US Open final, has yet to drop a set here, but acknowledged that he faces a huge challenge against Tsonga. The 22-year-old Frenchman, ranked No 38 in the world, has never played in a final let alone won a title but has been the revelation of the tournament.

“It’s great to see new players,” Djokovic said after his victory. “I think it’s good for the crowd to see two of the rising stars coming up against each other, particularly as we both won in straight sets against the best two players in the world.”

He added: “It’s just amazing. To beat the No 1 player in the world, one of the best players this sport has ever known, in straight sets is an indescribable feeling. I’m very, very proud of myself.”

Federer looked uncertain from the start, saving two set points in the fourth game, but broke serve to lead 4-3, courtesy of two misplaced Djokovic forehands. However, the world No 1 played a loose game when serving for the first set at 5-4 as Djokovic turned up the pressure and further mistakes in his next service game proved decisive. From 30-30 the champion hit two backhands long to give Djokovic the set.

The Serb continued to make the running in the second set. Four forehand errors put Federer in trouble in the fourth game and Djokovic broke with a splendid backhand passing shot down the line after the Swiss failed to put away a volley. Two games later Djokovic broke again, winning his ninth game out of 10 and going 5-1 up with a bold inside-out forehand winner.

Federer broke back immediately, taking the game with a backhand return winner down the line, and held serve to reduce the arrears to 5-3, but Djokovic was not to be denied. At deuce in the next game the Serb was given a code violation for taking too long between points, but his response was emphatic. A forehand winner established set point, which was converted with an ace.

Djokovic saved three break points in the second game of the third set, Federer saved four in the following game and at 5-6 Djokovic had two set points against him. Big serves once again got him out of trouble to set up the tie-break.

Federer, who had won 22 of his previous 26 tie-breaks in Grand Slam tournaments, took an early lead, only to let his advantage slip when he put a poor forehand out. On Djokovic’s first match point Federer put a forehand in the net and the young Serb sank to the ground in celebration. It was the first time the world No 1 had lost in straight sets in a Grand Slam tournament since Gustavo Kuerten knocked him out of the French Open four years ago.

It remains to be seen whether this was merely a blip in the career of the world’s best player, whose preparations for the tournament were seriously disrupted by a stomach ailment, but this was confirmation that Djokovic’s emergence has presented Federer and Nadal with a huge challenge in their efforts to retain their supremacy at the top of the world game. Whether Tsonga can further complicate the equation will become clearer on Sunday.