MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic beat an injured Roger Federer in straight sets to reach his eighth Australian Open final as unheralded American Sofia Kenin stunned top seed Ashleigh Barty to end home hopes on Thursday.
Djokovic twice fought back from a break down in the first set and after dominating the tie-breaker he never looked back, winning 7-6 (7/1), 6-4, 6-3 as Federer, who needed a medical time-out, faded.
“Respect to Roger for coming out tonight,” said the Serb, who is closing on his 17th Major title. “He was obviously hurt. He wasn’t even close to his best in terms of movement.”
Djokovic, who has never lost a Melbourne semifinal or final, will now play the winner of Friday’s clash between Dominic Thiem — who shocked world number one Rafael Nadal on Wednesday — and Alexander Zverev.
In the women’s competition, Kenin, 21, upset Australia’s Barty and Garbine Muguruza downed Wimbledon champion Simona Halep to join the American in Saturday’s final.
Federer was hampered by a groin injury in his five-set quarterfinal with Tennys Sandgren, and rumours swirled that he might pull out of the semi-final.
The 38-year-old Swiss, a six-time champion at Melbourne Park, was cleared by a scan but he took the court rating his chances at only “three per cent” against Djokovic.
“I was playing with nothing to lose,” Federer said, adding: “Today was horrible, to go through what I did.
“Nice entrance, nice send-off, and in between is one to forget because you know you have a three per cent chance to win.”
‘I’m just speechless’
Earlier, Barty had sent Australian expectations soaring of a first home-grown winner since 1978, but aggressive 14th seed Kenin saved two set points in each set to win 7-6 (8/6), 7-5 and battle into Saturday’s decider.
Moscow-born Kenin looked stunned at reaching her first Grand Slam final, at a tournament where she has often gone unnoticed while fellow Americans Serena Williams and 15-year-old Coco Gauff hogged the headlines.
“I’m just speechless, I honestly can’t believe this. I’ve dreamed about this moment since I was five years old… I’ve worked so hard to get here,” said Kenin, who was a baby when her family moved to America with just a few hundred dollars to their name.
“She came up with some really great shots. I knew she wasn’t going to give it up to me — I really had to fight out here. There’s a reason she’s number one.”
Kenin’s win came on a day when temperatures hit 38 Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit), prompting play to be suspended on outside courts — following earlier problems with bushfire smoke, downpours, wind and even muddy rain at the season’s opening Major.
In the second women’s semi Muguruza, a two-time Major-winner but out of the seedings after a form slump, scrapped her way to a 7-6 (10/8), 7-5 win over fourth seed Halep.
“I wasn’t thinking that I was down, I was thinking keep going and at some stage you’re going to have an opportunity,” said the Spaniard, who came back from behind in both sets.
“Luckily I have 48 hours now to recover and get ready for the last match, we train all of our career to be able to play on this court and in (front of) this crowd.” — AFP
Australian Open results
Sofia Kenin (USA x14) bt Ashleigh Barty (AUS x1) 7-6 (8/6), 7-5
Garbine Muguruza (ESP) bt Simona Halep (ROM x4) 7-6 (10/8), 7-5
Novak Djokovic (SRB x2) bt Roger Federer (SUI x3) 7-6 (7/1), 6-4, 6-3