Novak Djokovic will play Rafael Nadal for the 53rd time in the Australian Open final on Sunday after crushing Lucas Pouille for the loss of only four games.
Of the world number one’s 24 Grand Slam semi-final victories, only the one over an injured Marin Cilic at the US Open in 2015 was more comprehensive than this 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 demolition, which lasted just an hour and 23 minutes.
Frenchman Pouille, who had never faced Djokovic before, had made it through to the last four of a Slam for the first time, but was left helpless in the face of such a brilliant performance.
Djokovic said: “It’s definitely one of the best matches I ever had on this court. Everything worked the way I’d imagined it and even more so. Tough one for Lucas but he had a great tournament and I wish him all the best for the rest of the season.”
The narrative at the start of the tournament was supposed to be about the next generation making their mark, but Djokovic and Nadal conceded just 10 games in the semi-finals between them.
The considerable consolation is that the stage is now set for another chapter in one of the great tennis rivalries, and their first slam final since the 2014 French Open.
Djokovic takes a 27-25 lead into the contest having won their last meeting in typically epic fashion in the last four at Wimbledon last summer. The last time they met here, meanwhile, in the final in 2012, Djokovic won after five hours and 53 minutes in the longest slam final in history.
“That’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” added Djokovic. “Hopefully the outcome can be the same for me.”
It will be a 25th slam final for Nadal and a 24th for Djokovic, who has won all six of his previous finals at Melbourne Park and can set a new men’s record with a seventh.
The day had started with record temperatures of more than 40C in Melbourne but, such are the vagaries of the city’s weather, by the time the match started, it was pleasantly cool.
Djokovic’s form, however, was red hot from the start. The top seed has had his struggles this fortnight, dropping sets against Denis Shapovalov and Daniil Medvedev, but it was as if he had seen Nadal’s performance against Stefanos Tsitsipas and thought, ‘anything you can do’.
He will not admit it but wanting to show Nadal there are two men playing scintillating tennis ahead of the final was surely at the top of his mind, and poor Pouille bore the brunt.
This has been the best slam tournament of the 24-year-old’s career but he will look back on this night with no fondness whatsoever.
Djokovic’s record of 27 straight victories over French players at the slams was a warning and, from the moment he broke the Pouille serve in the second game, this was death by tennis ball.
While Pouille tried and failed to locate the first serve that might at least have won him a few free points, Djokovic sent the ball arrowing onto the lines and into the corners.
He hit 11 winners and only one unforced error – a drop shot he had no need to play – in the opening set, and his final tally of 24 to five told the story of just what a masterful performance this had been.
Pouille’s plight at least made him the crowd favourite, and there were wild cheers when he sent two forehand passes flying past Djokovic to get on the board in the eighth game.
Instead of being a foothold, that turned out to be the highlight, and the only mercy for Pouille was that the end came quickly.