MELBOURNE: A rampant Novak Djokovic surged into a 10th Australian Open final Friday to close in on a record-equaling 22nd Grand Slam crown, with only Stefanos Tsitsipas now standing in his way.
The Serbian fourth seed overcame an early wobble to romp past unseeded American Tommy Paul 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena in style.
Another title on Sunday will move him alongside Rafael Nadal with 22 Slam wins and see the 35-year-old return to world number one for the first time since last June.
Greek third seed Tsitsipas, who ground past Russian 18th seed Karen Khachanov 7-6 (7/2), 6-4, 6-7 (6/8), 6-3 in the other semi-final, can also become the top-ranked player should he lift the trophy.
Djokovic played the clash without father Srdjan courtside after he was filmed posing with a man holding a Russian flag featuring Vladimir Putin’s face following his son’s quarter-final win on Wednesday.
The incident sparked a backlash from Ukraine and led to calls for Djokovic’s father to be banned from the tournament.
Srdjan issued a statement ahead of the semi-final saying he would stay away, insisting he “wishes only for peace” and never wanted to cause “disruption”.
There was an empty seat next to his mother Dijana during the match.
“I’m really thankful that I have enough gas in my legs to be able to play at this level on one of the biggest tennis courts in the world,” said Djokovic, who is now 11-0 for the season and into a 33rd Grand Slam final.
“Of course, I’m not as fresh as the beginning of the tournament but we put in a lot of hours in the off-season on fitness in order to be in a good condition to play best of five (sets).
“I know what’s expected of me, I’ve been in this situation so many times in my career. Experience helps also,” he added of being in another final.
The win extended his unbeaten streak at the Australian Open to 27 matches to claim sole ownership of the Open-era record at Melbourne Park ahead of Andre Agassi.
Djokovic had never played Paul before and said he was wary of a “very explosive, very dynamic player”, with the American initially refusing to go quietly.