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For the best part of the past 16 years, the Australian Open and the Rod Laver Arena has stood as Novak Djokovic’s impenetrable fortress from which he has built a record-breaking dominance over his sport. With a 33-match winning streak at Melbourne Park, Djokovic entered his 11th Australian Open semi-final against Jannik Sinner knowing he had always gone on to win the tournament after reaching this stage of the fortnight.
That record is now over. In a stunning upset, the 22-year-old Sinner claimed what is by far the biggest win of his burgeoning career to reach his first grand slam final. Given Sinner’s form at the Australian Open and his recent record against Djokovic, with wins in two of their previous three meetings, the Italian was tipped to push the 36-year-old close. But Sinner produced the unthinkable: first a landslide and then an utterly dominant 6-1 6-2 6-7 6-4 victory that brought Djokovic’s first defeat at the Australian Open since 2018 – 2,195 days ago.
Sinner will face Daniil Medvedev for his first grand slam title on Sunday but Djokovic’s entire year went up in smoke in the wreckage he left behind. The World No 1 was aiming to win his 25th grand slam title in Melbourne and he will have more chances to claim that record, but the opportunity to make one final assault at the ‘golden slam’ of all four majors and the Olympics in a single year is already over. And with Sinner now firmly elevating himself above his peers alongside Carlos Alcaraz as a worthy contender for the biggest titles, Djokovic will know the challenge to stay at the top is tougher than ever before.
Djokovic departs Melbourne with his winning run now over
The moment was coming but no one predicted it to arrive like this. Djokovic had looked shaky throughout his title defence, dropping sets to qualifier Dino Prizmic and Alexei Popyrin in his first two rounds, but Sinner held the inner belief to get over the line. Djokovic was subdued and out of sorts but Sinner attacked the champion without hesitation from the baseline: his serve was unerringly efficient and his forehand typically clean. Sinner had announced himself as the player to beat at the end of last year, when he defeated Djokovic twice in two weeks at the ATP Finals and Davis Cup, and his reaction after winning match point was telling: cool and collected, Sinner looked ahead to Sunday.
There were two parts to this upset: the first as Sinner wiped the floor with Djokovic in the opening two sets, the second as the Italian withstood the inevitable fightback after the defending champion took the tiebreak. Yet despite the scoreline, it was Sinner’s own resilience in the third and fourth that was arguably more impressive than the one-sided nature of the first hour. While Djokovic started the match by making an avalanche of unforced errors from the baseline, he steadied his game to stay alive. But as Sinner served out, he did so without having faced a single break point across the match: inconceivable against the best returner the sport has ever seen.
Djokovic was left with questions to answer and he was honest in responding to them. “I was shocked with my level, in a bad way,” he said. “This is one of the worst grand slam matches I’ve ever played.” There was no doubt about it: Sinner was utterly emphatic and Djokovic was considerably below the level he demands of himself. There was an absence of fire as he trailed the match or spark to work out Sinner’s steady game. He finished with 54 unforced errors, a pattern he was unable to overturn from the early exchanges.
Sinner is the first Italian player to reach an Australian Open final
From the start, Djokovic looked unsteady in the rallies as Sinner took charge from the baseline. The Italian’s hitting was crisper and cleaner than Djokovic’s, producing excellent depth and angles on his forehand wing, and the defending champion could not gain a foothold in the match. Every game was a struggle for Djokovic against the consistency of Sinner’s groundstrokes and the unforced errors flowed at a staggering rate. Off balance and out of sorts, Djokovic made 15 unforced errors in the first seven games of the match; Sinner, faultless and focused, also broke his serve twice and wrapped up a 6-1 opening set in just 35 minutes.
Sinner may have expected a reaction: there wasn’t one. Djokovic, who usually turns to his box to vent his frustration, was quiet and withdrawn as Sinner continued to press on with a calm authority. Unable to make any inroads on the return games, Djokovic was broken for the third time at the start of the second set as Sinner landed a deep return to catch the World No 1 off guard on the baseline. But while his serve showed signs of improving, the inconsistency from Djokovic continued as Sinner broke again: a tame forehand drifting long moments after Djokovic had played his best point of the match and had finally turned to offer something to the crowd.
Djokovic was thrashed by Sinner in the first two sets before the 22-year-old closed out victory
It was turning into a landslide; Djokovic’s second-worst start to a grand slam match after two sets after winning just two games against Rafael Nadal in the 2020 French Open final. Yet, despite Sinner’s previous wins against Djokovic, best-of-five sets is a different beast and the battle was only just beginning. Djokovic saved a critical break point at the start of the third and, although it was a cooler afternoon in Melbourne, he began to pick up his momentum and started to ask some questions of Sinner on his return games once the heat of the day faded. While Sinner did not have to face a break point in the third set behind an impressive first-serve, Djokovic had grown into the contest by the tiebreak.
Sinner was starting to cough up more errors, particularly on his backhand, but the Italian’s excellent serving got him back into the tiebreak after trailing 4-2 at the changeover. Djokovic was forced to save match point and as Sinner made consecutive backhand errors, the Serbian raised his fist as he drew level. Yet it only delayed Sinner’s charge. From the start of the fourth, the Italian continued to push Djokovic on the return games while giving up nothing behind his own serve. Djokovic had to save break points in his opening service game of the set before the most uncharacteristic of Djokovic service games. From 40-0 up, Sinner clawed back to deuce and Djokovic spluttered with a double fault. As Sinner broke, it was enough to strike ahead and claim the victory of his life.