‘Perfect’ Djokovic finds ‘the zone’ to set up Nadal blockbuster final


MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic said he was “in the zone” and played a “perfect match” Friday to line up a blockbuster Australian Open final against his great rival Rafael Nadal.

“Today was a perfect match for me from the first to the last point,” said the Serbian after destroying 28th seed Lucas Pouille 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 in just 83 minutes On Rod Laver Arena.

“I executed everything that I intended to and even more than I have expected,” said the world number one after a flawless display put him into a first Melbourne decider since 2016.

“It is definitely one of the best matches I’ve ever had on this court, definitely,” added Djokovic, who hit 24 winners and had just five unforced errors.

“Every professional athlete wants to be in the zone, where everything flows so effortlessly and you are executing automatically everything you are intending to execute,” Djokovic said, explaining a sublime performance where he conceded no break point.

“You don’t need to think too much. I guess you’re driven by some force that takes over you and you feel divine, you feel like in a different dimension. It’s quite an awesome feeling that we all try to reach and stay in.”

Pouille was left powerless on the other side of the net.

“I was trying to find a solution, but couldn’t find any,” lamented the Frenchman.

Djokovic will face second seed Nadal, who he described as his “biggest rival,” in a 53rd career meeting and eighth in the final of a Slam.

In 2012 the pair contested the longest Grand Slam final in terms of time at the Australian Open when Djokovic edged an epic battle 7-5 in the fifth set after 5hr 53min.

The Serb ran Pouille ragged so effectively that he dished out a dreaded 6-0 “bagel” in a first set that lasted just 21 minutes.

Pouille held his first service game of the second set to a huge ovation from the centre court fans, but it was an all-too brief respite.

‘Biggest rival’:

Djokovic lost in the fourth round last year, followed by elbow surgery and poor form until he won Wimbledon and turned his season around.

“It was highly unlikely 12 months ago that I would be where I am today, a year later,” said the Serbian top seed.

“But I’ve said it before, and I always have plenty of belief in myself, and I think the self-belief is something that always prevails.”

On Thursday Nadal had allowed his young Greek opponent Stefanos Tsitsipas to win just six games on the way to the final in an hour and 46 minutes.

Djokovic made that look pedestrian, allowing Pouille only four games and taking 23 minutes less to set up a repeat of the pair’s epic 2012 showdown.

“He’s my biggest rival in my career. I’ve played so many matches against him, epic matches on this court,” said Djokovic of Nadal.

“Of course, the one that stands out was the final of six hours almost in 2012. Hopefully we don’t go that long this time.”

Nadal holds a 4-3 win-loss record against Djokovic in Grand Slam finals, including all three meetings since their Melbourne Park marathon seven years ago, and both players are chasing milestones on Sunday.

A win for Nadal will see him become the first player in the Open era to win all four Grand Slam titles twice, while victory for Djokovic will take him clear of six-time Melbourne winners Roger Federer and Roy Emerson.