MELBOURNE – Novak Djokovic had a perfect record in Australian Open semifinals, and he was playing almost flawless tennis to protect it.
It didn't matter that across the net was Aslan Karatsev, a 114th-ranked, 27-year-old Russian who had come through qualifying to make his debut in a Grand Slam tournament after nine failed attempts.
Djokovic made only one unforced error in more than 50 minutes.
It was tight for the first seven games — before Djokovic reeled off eight straight points to win the first set — and again when Karatsev went on an all-or-nothing roll late in the second set.
Sensing a shift in support for the underdog — there was a loud, vocal crowd at Rod Laver Arena after a five-day span when fans were barred during a local COVID-19 outbreak — Djokovic moved up a gear and finished off his opponent 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
He's now 9-0 in semifinals at the season-opening major, and one win from a ninth Australian title.
“The more I win, the better I feel coming back," the top-ranked Djokovic said. “The love affair continues.”
Djokovic will have a day off Friday when No. 4 Daniil Medvedev and No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is coming off a five-set win over Rafael Nadal, meet in the other semifinal. He said he'd have a rest and get the popcorn ready to watch and see who he gets to face in Sunday's final.