MELBOURNE: Defending champion Novak Djokovic crushed David Ferrer to reach the Australian Open final on Thursday as Victoria Azarenka ignited a timeout row in setting up a women’s title match with China’s Li Na.
Djokovic, the world number one, floored Ferrer 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in an embarrassingly one-sided contest which he rated as one of the best performances of his career.
“I just played incredible,” said the 25-year-old Serb, who will play either Roger Federer or Andy Murray in Sunday’s final.
“I don’t expect always to play this well but I was free in my mind tonight and I hope I can continue like this into the final.” He added: “Today was my best performance, it came at the right moment and I hope I can play the same on Sunday.”
Djokovic was taken to five sets by a gritty Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round and he went four with Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals, and the tireless Ferrer was expected to pose another test in the semi-final.
But the ultra-fit Serb played almost flawless tennis, hitting 30 winners with just 16 unforced errors, and will be the strong favourite to complete the first Australian Open title hat-trick since the 1960s.
“I played incredible tennis and I felt very comfortable and very confident from the start,” Djokovic said. “I wanted to be aggressive on the court but this is definitely one of the best performances I’ve ever had in my career.”
The victory brought attention back to on-court action after Azarenka, last year’s women’s champion, found herself at the centre of a storm over a poorly-timed medical break in her semi-final with American teenager Sloane Stephens.
The increasingly flummoxed world number one had just lost five match points when she called for the trainer and went off the court for 10 minutes, with Stephens, 19, sitting in her courtside chair waiting to serve to stay in the match.
When Azarenka returned she broke Stephens to win 6-1, 6-4, and said she had avoided the “choke of the year” and felt “overwhelmed” before her break, suggesting she had needed to gather her thoughts rather than treat an injury.