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Djokovic edges out Zverev to reach semi-final

MELBOURNE (Agencies): Reigning champion Novak Djokovic overcame some dips in form to beat Alexander Zverev 6-7(6) 6-2 6-4 7-6(6) and book his place in the Australian Open semi-finals on Tuesday.

The Serbian world number one hit back strongly after losing a tight opening set on a tiebreak but trailed in both the third and fourth sets before turning them around. Germany’s Zverev will rue allowing Djokovic back from 4-1 down in the third set and he was also up 3-0 in the fourth.

Djokovic again wore tape on his abdominal area, a legacy of the injury picked up in his third-round win over Taylor Fritz. But it did not appear to bother him as he reached his 39th Grand Slam semi-final, where he will face an unlikely opponent in Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev.

The 23-year-old Zverev began in confident fashion and secured the first break of the match but failed to convert a set point on Djokovic’s serve when leading 5-3. He wavered on his own serve at 5-4 though, and Djokovic took the set into a tiebreak, only for some uncharacteristic errors to allow Zverev to sneak a 59-minute set.

Djokovic needed only 29 minutes to win the second set but his level dropped at the start of the third, and he destroyed a racket in anger as he slipped 4-1 behind. Zverev was 0-30 ahead on Djokovic’s serve in the next game but Djokovic found another gear, winning 20 of the next 24 points to move one set from victory. Another momentum shift saw Zverev take a 3-0 lead in the fourth set and have three points to move 4-0 ahead, but Djokovic dug in to haul himself back into contention.

Zverev threatened to take the match into a decider but Djokovic saved a set point at 5-6 with an ace and a powerful first serve brought up match point in the day’s second tiebreak. Djokovic netted a backhand but forced a volley error from Zverev to earn another chance, this time on his own serve, and he wrapped up the match with his 23rd ace.

Serena comes through Halep test to reach semi-finals

MELBOURNE: Serena Williams came through a huge test of her Australian Open title credentials to reach the last four at Melbourne Park for the ninth time with a 6-3 6-3 victory over Simona Halep in a high quality quarter-final on Tuesday.

The 39-year-old went toe-to-toe with the Romanian second seed over 80 minutes on Rod Laver Arena before she was finally able to move to within two victories of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title. Williams hit some ferocious forehands and moved around the court with a freedom that she has not enjoyed for a good while to set up a semi-final meeting against in-form Japanese third seed Naomi Osaka.

“I think this was the best match I have played at this tournament, for sure,” Williams said after celebrating her win to the accompaniment of canned applause as Melbourne’s coronavirus lockdown kept the fans away for a fourth day. “I knew it had to be going up against the number two in the world. I had to be better and I was, so I’m excited.”

If any match at this year’s tournament deserved a crowd, it was this. There were nine breaks of serve as two great competitors punched and counter-punched over lengthy rallies. Williams was always in front in the first set but needed to dig deep to wrestle back the momentum after Halep took a 3-1 lead in the second.

The match turned decisively when Williams broke for 4-3 after a 13-shot rally where she showed incredible athleticism to get to a couple of shots that would have defied most players.

Seven minutes later, she wrapped up the contest with a huge forehand, her 24th winner.

“My feeling after this match is that I was not that far (away) but she was stronger in the important moments,” said Halep.

“I’m not that disappointed with myself.”

Williams has not landed one of the game’s major prizes since her seventh title at Melbourne Park in 2017, with Halep’s victory in the 2019 Wimbledon final denying her one opportunity to match Margaret Court’s record.

After gaining a measure of revenge for that defeat, Williams has the chance to avenge another when she plays Osaka, who won the 2018 U.S. Open final between the two.

“I feel this is a great opportunity for me just to do my best in the first Grand Slam of the year,” she said.

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