Second set: Rublev 1-6, 2-3 Djokovic* (*denotes next server) Are we about to see another gear change from Djokovic? He finds the baseline again, and a fizzing return is wafted out of play by a dispirited Rublev. Three break points – he grinds out the first, but Djokovic breaks with some trademark rubber-legged baseline strokes and Rublev nets. An hour on the clock, and Djokovic has this match in the palm of his hand.
Second set: *Rublev 1-6, 2-2 Djokovic (*denotes next server) Djokovic has had a go at a spectator, the umpire and his coaching team so far. Disappointingly for Rublev, the bad mood is not really affecting his game as he holds again with ease.
Second set: Rublev 1-6, 2-1 Djokovic* (*denotes next server) There have been glimmers of hope for Rublev, but he hasn’t found an area in the game where he can consistently hurt his opponent. He gets enough behind the forehand to hold here, with Djokovic offering some angry words to Goran Ivanisevic up in the stands. Considering he’s in control of this match, he seems to be in a bit of a funk out there.
Second set: *Rublev 1-6, 1-1 Djokovic (*denotes next server) There has been a stiff breeze blowing across court throughout the early stages, and it helps Rublev make in-roads against the serve here. A trademark ferocious forehand gets him to deuce, but Djokovic gets through the game with two unreturnable second serves in a row.
Second set: Rublev 1-6, 1-0 Djokovic* (*denotes next server) Rublev did not play all that badly in the opening set, and lost six games out of seven. Djokovic begins the second set by complaining to the umpire, James Keothavong, about the heckling. Rublev gets on with the job, kicking off the set with a welcome service hold.
First set: *Rublev 1-6 Djokovic (*denotes next server) Rublev is beginning to shrug and sigh as Djokovic routinely finds the lines – but an unexpected rally earns him his first break point of the set. It’s saved with an ace, before a double fault offers another opportunity. Again, the first serve is unstoppable and a fortunate flick off the net cord helps him to set point – converted with a backhand into the corner.
First set: Rublev 1-5 Djokovic* (*denotes next server) Djokovic pauses mid-game to complain about a heckler, disrupting him on “every single point”. Rublev looks on the verge of handing this set over but keeps clinging on, seeing off four break points. On the fifth, Djokovic simply has too much, pinning his opponent back and drawing the error. Double break!
First set: *Rublev 1-4 Djokovic (*denotes next server) That will be incredibly deflating for Rublev, who had looked in marginally better shape early on. He keeps fighting, stepping in on the second serve to make it 30-all. When the Djoko first serve lands in, it’s a different story, as a game-sealing ace confirms.
First set: Rublev 1-3 Djokovic* (*denotes next server) Djokovic did not look entirely happy during that service game, one errant first serve particularly irritating him. Rublev makes a solid start here with some aggressive shots, but again lets a 40-15 lead slip to deuce. Djokovic digs out a return in trademark style to earn a break point – and Rublev double-faults! Oh dear.
First set: Rublev 1-2 Djokovic* (*denotes next server) Rublev will be happy to get through that first test, but Djokovic certainly made him work for it. Can he apply any pressure on the Djokovic serve? It’s not firing on all cylinders just yet, but he takes the game with a cross-court winner.
First set: Rublev 1-1 Djokovic* (*denotes next server) After opening with a double fault, Rublev comes through what may be the first of many long rallies – but Djokovic stays in the game with a clinical, baseline-clipping lob. Rublev steps forward to put away a forehand at break-point down, and gets on the board with an ace. At the changeover, a bottle of water is apparently sent down to Djokovic from his coaching box.
First set: *Rublev 0-1 Djokovic (*denotes next server) Djokovic, his left thigh heavily strapped once again, fires down some big first serves to hold. Rublev does offer some threat on second serve, particularly with a ferocious cross-court winning forehand.
Here they come! Both players out on court, with Djokovic getting a big ovation. Plenty of Serbian flags fluttering in the stands at the Rod Laver Arena. It’s currently a balmy 26 degrees in Melbourne, with a bit of a breeze too.
Head-to-head: Djokovic leads Rublev 2-1 in their three previous meetings, having beaten Rublev twice on hard courts at the ATP finals – but the Russian can take heart from a victory in last year’s Belgrade final. Admittedly, that was on clay and Djokovic was not in peak form – but Rublev won the last set 6-0, the only player other than Rafa Nadal to bagel big Nolé in the last five years.
Here’s Tumaini Carayol on Wednesday’s quarter-final action in the women’s draw, where Magda Linette continued her unexpected run:
The winner here today will face Tommy Paul in the semi-final, after he emerged victorious from the earlier all-American battle with Ben Shelton, winning 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. The 25-year-old reached the fourth round at last year’s Wimbledon, but this is his best performance at a grand slam by some distance.
Andrey Rublev is seeded just one place below Novak Djokovic, but that rather undersells the size of his task today. The Russian is 0-6 in grand slam quarter-finals, losing five of those matches in straight sets. He has the all-round game to go further, but it will be tough to overcome that hurdle today against a man chasing history.
Djokovic is one win from equaling Andre Agassi’s 26-game winning run in Melbourne, and the favorite to clinch a scarcely believable 10th Australian Open this week. He has taken a while to hit top gear this year, held back by a hamstring injury early on but after dispatching Alex De Minaur in ruthless fashion, he is undoubtedly the man to beat.