Djokovic advances to Aussie Open semis

  • Associated Press
  • Tuesday, January 22, 2013 7:51am
  • SportsSports

MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic is really starting to get the hang of how to handle himself at the Australian Open.

An expression often used Down Under — “Keep your shirt on” — is designed to discourage anyone from becoming unnecessarily overexcited.

Djokovic took it literally after his 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 win Tuesday night over fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych, advancing to the semifinals at an 11th consecutive Grand Slam tournament.

The 2-hour, 31-minute victory took exactly half the time of his five-set, fourth-round win two nights previously against Stanislas Wawrinka. In the early hours of Monday morning, Djokovic ripped his sweat-drenched shirt off and flexed his muscles, mimicking his victory celebration after the 5:53 victory over Rafael Nadal in the 2012 Australian Open final.

That was acceptable at the time to the Rod Laver Arena crowd, which was still abuzz at 1:40 a.m. following five sets of high-level tennis.

After the Berdych match, however, he realized there was no need to raise the roof. Djokovic calmly pumped his fist once and walked to the net; he later joked about the ice baths he’d taken in between matches on the advice of local hero Lleyton Hewitt.

“It was a great performance. I was hoping to have a shorter match … just not to go over 5 hours,” Djokovic said, in a comparatively subdued mood after a considerably more routine victory. “It’s always going to be tough against Tomas; he’s an established player. He has a big game, big serve. He can compete against anyone on any surface.”

In the semifinals, Djokovic will meet No. 4-seeded David Ferrer.

Ferrer survived a quarterfinal battle with fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro. Almagro had three chances to serve for the match, but Ferrer broke each time.

A usually mild-mannered pro, Ferrer showed his aggression at times when he threatened to spike his racket and even smashed his water bottle in the changeover after he’d dropped serve in a frustrating fourth set that featured eight breaks of serve.

He’d never lost to Almagro in 12 previous meetings and, as the No. 1 Spaniard in the draw in the absence of 11-time major winner Rafael Nadal, felt a responsibility to reach the semis.

“It was (a) miracle I won this match,” Ferrer said of his comeback 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4), 6-2 win. “I tried to fight every point; that’s my game. I always fight.”

Ferrer survived once in the third set and twice in the fourth when Almagro was serving for the match, but held his nerve and finally advanced to his third semifinal in the last four Grand Slam events.

“In the important moments, I played more consistent in my game,” Ferrer said. “Of course, in the next round, the semifinals, I need to play my best tennis, better than today.”

Djokovic acknowledged Ferrer’s work ethic, saying the 30-year-old Spaniard was “one of the most respected guys on the tour because he never gives up.”

“He plays every single match of his career with 100 percent,” Djokovic said.

“I’m expecting a long one,” he added.

Ferrer has never been past a major semifinal.

There are only three men left in the draw who have won Grand Slam titles — Djokovic has won five, including the last two in Australia. He’s aiming to be the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian titles.

The other two are in action Wednesday, with 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer against 2008 Australian finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France. Andy Murray, who broke the 76-year drought for British men at the major tournaments by winning the U.S. Open last year, will play Jeremy Chardy of France.

On the women’s side, defending champion Victoria Azarenka faces Svetlana Kuznetsova, who has won the U.S. Open and the French Open, and 15-time major winner Serena Williams is against 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens, who is playing her first quarterfinal at a Grand Slam.

Maria Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam last year by winning the French Open, a few months after losing the Australian Open final to Azarenka. After her 6-2, 6-2 quarterfinal win over Ekatrina Makarova on Tuesday, she has conceded only nine games in five matches — a record in Australia.

“To be honest, those are not the stats you want to be known for,” Sharapova said.

After opening with a pair of 6-0, 6-0 wins, Sharapova thrashed seven-time major winner Venus Williams 6-1, 6-3 in the third round and Belgian Kristen Flipkens 6-0, 6-1 in the fourth.

Li Na has reached the semifinals in three of the last four years at Melbourne Park after beating Agnieszka Radwanska 7-5, 6-3. The 30-year-old Chinese player lost the 2011 final in Australia to Kim Clijsters, then won her breakthrough Grand Slam at the French Open a few months later. She hasn’t been back to a major final since.

Djokovic won his first major title in Australia in 2008, then didn’t make another final in his next 11 Grand Slam events. He’s won four since then and is the top-ranked man in tennis, crediting the lessons from his experiences back then.

“At the start of my career, I went through a lot of different kinds of challenges physically, mentally,” he said. “Everybody makes mistakes. I was aware of the fact that I need to improve because I wasn’t feeling well, especially in the heat. I had lots of health issues.

“I don’t want to go through it again. I am aware of the importance of an everyday practice and recovery basis. So as long as it’s like that, I think I’ll be all right.”

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