Emotional, flawless Novak sets up Fed showdown No.50

Flair and excitement were at a premium but defending champion Novak Djokovic is into another semi-final after seeing off the big serving Milos Raonic 6-4 6-3 7-6(1) to meet old foe Roger Federer later this week.

The drama though came minutes after the end, Djokovic getting teary when on-court interviewer John McEnroe asked him about basketball icon Kobe Bryant, killed in a helicopter crash on Monday morning (EDT).

"He was one of the greatest athletes of all time," Djokovic told the crowd on Rod Laver Arena

"He inspired me and many other people around the world. I had the fortune to have a personal relationship with him over the last 10 years. When I needed advice and support he was there for me. He was my mentor and my friend."

 

An emotional Novak Djokovic is comforted by tennis great John McEnroe after being overcome with emotion during a question about Kobe Bryant.
An emotional Novak Djokovic is comforted by tennis great John McEnroe after being overcome with emotion during a question about Kobe Bryant.

The Serb then apologised to Raonic and the crowd for an occurrence at 4-4 in the third set when he dashed off court to change his contact lenses.

"It was not tactical, it was something I had to do. I couldn't see much and I had to change my lenses."

A bewildered Raonic hit a few practice serves while Djokovic was away, presumably to keep warm, before approaching the chair.

"Is he allowed to do it?" Raonic, not unreasonably, asked.

Milos Raonic chats with the chair umpire during his straight-sets defeat to Novak Djokovic.
Milos Raonic chats with the chair umpire during his straight-sets defeat to Novak Djokovic.

It was unclear and a medical timeout was called a few minutes after the champion had left the arena at which point, of course, he sprinted back on. If the issue was resolved it was perhaps not ideal, Djokovic squinting and blinking his eyes for a good few minutes afterwards.

It was all legit, the rules stating that lenses are considered necessary equipment and a player is entitled to a reasonable time out if the lenses need adjusting.

Despite the Canadian's pedigree, Djokovic will not have been unhappy to face the man with the Balkans background. They had met nine time before, the Serb the winner every time, a record that does not lead to self-doubt.

Djokovic played near-flawless tennis to assert his favouritism in this tournament.
Djokovic played near-flawless tennis to assert his favouritism in this tournament.

As well, 'Missile' Raonic served well, 18 aces albeit tempered by six double faults.

Djokovic plopped them over the net by comparison, four aces the best he could manage but power is not all, the Serb scoring far better on his first serve by the end. The Raonic game is built around his serve but it was not at its most effective tonight and when he needed it.

Maybe it was the cold, so chilly was it even pre-match that when Novak took up his starting position there would have been little surprise had he not only kept his long sleeve top on but donned a pair of trackie bottoms too.

Djokovic donned a tracksuit for his warm-up, due to the cool Melbourne temperatures.
Djokovic donned a tracksuit for his warm-up, due to the cool Melbourne temperatures.

He was not doing much running either once the match began, moving Raonic around from his baseline only, the net a distant land and utterly irrelevant to the contest other than marking the halfway divide.

While this was a match between two of the game's best players clearly, it was done and dusted after the first set, Raonic lacking the self- belief to take it forward and Djokovic steely in his resolve. He was never about to crack and a repeat of the near miraculous Roger Federer escape on the same court a few hours earlier was never a possibility.