Top seed Novak Djokovic set up a tantalising Australian Open final against Rafael Nadal by thrashing Lucas Pouille in a one-sided semi-final.The Serb, 31, needed just one hour and 23 minutes to win 6-0 6-2 6-2.
Djokovic broke serve seven times as he outclassed 24-year-old Frenchman Pouille, seeded 28th and in his first Grand Slam semi-final.Djokovic and Spaniard Nadal – who have 31 Grand Slams titles between them – meet on Sunday.
The world number one set up their first meeting in Melbourne since their epic six-hour final in 2012 – which the Serb eventually won – with a near flawless performance against Pouille.He made just five unforced errors and hit 24 winners on Rod Laver Arena.
“It is definitely one of the best matches I’ve ever had on this court,” said the 14-time major winner.”Everything worked how I imagined it before the match – it was a tough one for Lucas.”
Djokovic is aiming for a seventh Australian Open crown, which would move him clear of Roy Emerson and Roger Federer in terms of all-time victories in Melbourne.
Nadal, who would trail Federer by two if he wins his 18th major, could become the first man to claim a second career Grand Slam in the Open era.
Dominant Djokovic sets tone from the start
Djokovic was competing in his 34th Grand Slam semi-final – a record bettered only by Switzerland’s Federer – against a player who had never won a main-draw match at Melbourne in his five previous visits.
Although the pair had not met in a competitive match, they knew each other’s game because they have been regular practice partners in recent years.
Unfortunately for Pouille, and those who had paid up to about £400 for a ticket, the second semi-final proved to be little more than a practice match for the world number one.
Pouille saw his serve come under immediate pressure in the second game, lumping a forehand long and then dumping another into the net to give Djokovic two break points.
Although he saved both – the second with a 127mph ace out wide – Djokovic earned a third chance after outlasting him in a long rally to knock an inch-perfect forehand down the line.
This time Pouille buckled and handed over the advantage with a double fault.That set the tone for an opener which Djokovic completely dominated.
Pouille’s first serve was down at 46%, allowing Djokovic to dismantle his second serve and win 77% of those points on his way to claiming 28 points compared to Pouille’s 12 in the first set.
Djokovic also only made one unforced error, hitting 11 winners, as his 10th straight victory in a Grand Slam semi-final looked inevitable.
Pouille avoids unwanted record
Although Djokovic had only dropped two sets on his way to the last four, there was a suspicion that his best form was still to come. Poor Pouille was the man who bore the brunt of it.
The Frenchman, who will rise into the world’s top 20 after the tournament, finally got on the scoreboard shortly after the half-hour mark when he held serve for 1-1 in the second set, bringing up one of the loudest cheers on a Melbourne summer evening which had lost the heat intensity of the previous day.
But any hopes the crowd had of seeing the match develop into a contest quickly disappeared.
Pouille lost serve in the fourth game with another double fault for a 3-1 lead to Djokovic, then made two more unforced errors as the Serb broke again to take the set.
Djokovic’s biggest win in a Grand Slam semi-final came when he thrashed Croatia’s Marin Cilic 6-0 6-1 6-2 at the 2015 US Open and Pouille looked in danger of coming off even worse.
However, a quick hold to love in the sixth game, helped by two rare unforced errors by Djokovic, meant the Frenchman avoided that unwanted record.
That will be little consolation, though, as a harsh lesson was completed when Djokovic rattled off the final two games to reach his 24th Grand Slam final.
“I didn’t have time to put a strategy in the match,” Pouille said. “The strategy was to be aggressive, try to be the one who’s leading the point.
“But when he’s playing that far from the baseline, 10 centimetres from the baseline all the time, it’s tough to do it.”