Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will meet for the 45th time when they do battle in the first mens semi-final at this year’s Australian Open on Thursday.
The match shapes up to be a mouth-watering prospect with both men winning their quarter-finals in straight sets.
Federer has looked the better of the two during the tournament, playing in a fashion belying his status as the game’s elder statesmen.
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Chasing his 18th Grand Slam title, the Swiss great has dropped just one set during the tournament.
Following his 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 6-4 victory over Tomas Berdych in the fourth round, the four-time Australian Open champion spoke to reporters about his longstanding status at the peak of mens tennis.
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“I feel like I’m competitive at the top. I can beat all the guys on Tour. It’s nice now that in the last three slams I’ve been as consistent as I have been," the 34-year-old said.
"I’m playing good tennis, fun tennis for me anyway. I really enjoy being able to come to the net more like back in the day. So I’m very pleased.”
Sub-par Djokovic makes the final four
Although Djokovic, the man standing between Federer and a fifth title in Australia, has been below his clinical best up until this stage, it would be unwise to write off the Serbian.
The world number one and defending champion, who has only lost once at Melbourne Park since 2011, has struggled at times during this year’s tournament and yet finds himself in familiar territory.
Djokovic has dropped two sets on his way to the semi-finals, both against Frenchman Gilles Simon in the last 16.
A more convincing win over Kei Nishikori followed in the quarter-finals after the 28-year-old managed to cut down his unforced error count, registering just 27 in comparison to the 100 he made in the previous round.
Djokovic cited a missed practice session as the reason for his improvement, telling reporters time out can be beneficial during the bustle of a major tournament.
"Sometimes it’s good to reset your mind and rest your body. Less is more sometimes," he said.
A battle of attack versus defence
Whilst previous matches between the two men have had underlying sub-plots, this clash is purely about what’s happening on the court.
With Federer striking the ball so cleanly and seizing every opportunity to advance into the court, this contest looks as even as any of their 44 past meetings.
However, Djokovic defends like no other, and there is no player better equipped to nullify Federer’s weapons.
The Serb, one of the best returners in the world and almost robotic from the baseline, should seek to draw Federer into protracted rallies to give himself the best chance of overcoming the Swiss and reaching his 19th Grand Slam final.
Conversely, if Federer serves at his best and takes the ball on as early as possible, it could well be the Swiss who makes it to Rod Laver Arena on 31 January.
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