MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic smashed a racket, sending a piece of the frame flying. Later, he plopped himself down right there at the back of the blue court, looking forlorn as can be.
He dropped the opening set against Alexander Zverev, one of the young guys trying to shove aside Djokovic and the rest of the Big Three. Djokovic trailed 3-0 in the third. And 3-0 in the fourth, too, eventually even facing a set point.
Ah, but this is Djokovic we’re talking about, the ultimate competitor. And this is Djokovic at the Australian Open, where no man ever has been better. So, naturally, Djokovic pulled himself together and pulled out the victory, reaching his ninth semifinal at Melbourne Park by eliminating No. 5 seed Zverev 6-7 (6), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (6) Tuesday night.
Djokovic is closing in on a ninth championship in Australia, which would add to his own record for a man. And an 18th Grand Slam title overall, two fewer than rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal (who plays in the quarterfinals Wednesday).
Both men wore tape on their midsections to help with abdominal issues; Djokovic was hurt during his third-round win against Taylor Fritz.
That didn’t stop the No. 1-ranked Djokovic from managing to produce 23 aces, including on the final point.
In the semifinals, he will face the surprise of the tournament: Aslan Karatsev, a 27-year-old from Russia who is ranked 114th and needed to go through qualifying rounds just to get into the main draw of a major for the first time.
No one ever had been to the final four in his Slam debut, until Karatsev’s 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 elimination Tuesday of No. 18 Grigor Dimitrov, who was hurt by back spasms that made tying his shoes a chore.
Zverev, the 2020 U.S. Open runner-up and a semifinalist in Melbourne a year ago, once more had trouble against elite competition on the biggest stages. He fell to 0-8 against Top 10 opponents at Grand Slam tournaments; he is 25-29 facing such foes in tour-level matches otherwise.
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