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    Novak Djokovic holds off Taylor Fritz to reach Australian Open semis for 11th time
    • January 23, 2024

    By JOHN PYE AP Sports Writer

    MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic held off Taylor Fritz, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, in 3¾ hours to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the 11th time on Tuesday.

    When he gets through the quarterfinals in Australia, Djokovic is unbeaten.

    The 24-time major champion has won all 10 semifinals he’s contested at Melbourne Park and all 10 finals. In his record-extending 48th Grand Slam semifinal, the top seed will play fourth-seeded Jannik Sinner or No. 5 Andrey Rublev.

    The 12th-seeded Fritz saved the first 15 break points he faced, an unheard of statistic against one of the best returners ever.

    “We all know Taylor has got one of the best serves in the world,” Djokovic said. “I knew the kind of threat he poses when he serves on such a high quality.

    “My conversion was really poor but in the end of the day, I managed to break him when it mattered. I upped my game midway through the third set, all the way to the end.”

    The first game set the tone for a long, tough match. It lasted 16 minutes and contained 24 points, going to deuce nine times. Fritz fended off three breakpoints before finally holding.

    The first set lasted 1 hour, 24 minutes – the longest opening set of the tournament – and was in the balance until the tiebreaker.

    The match started in bright sunlight and almost 90-degree heat, and the shade moved from west to east across the court from behind the umpire’s chair.

    After Fritz held in the 11th game, Djokovic was agitated and gesturing to get the attention of his support team, calling for salts.

    But after holding and taking the set to a tiebreaker, Djokovic finished a 21-shot rally with a stunning backhand crosscourt winner to get five set points. He put his finger to his ear, nodded his head and blew a kiss toward a commentary box at the rear of the court.

    It was Fritz who got the first service break to open the second set, having fended off eight in the first set against him.

    He saved another seven break point chances in the second, mostly with clean winners, and maintained the break to level at one set apiece, closing with an ace.

    After all that resistance, though, Fritz was broken in the second game of the third set when Djokovic converted his 16th chance. Djokovic broke again, at love, in the ninth game to wrap up the third set in 38 minutes.

    In the fourth, Fritz struggled to hold in a game that contained 14 points and then was broken in the sixth. He hit back immediately, converting his second break point with a forehand that clipped the net and dropped for a winner.

    But Djokovic denied any additional twists by breaking back again for 5-3 and serving out.

    Djokovic had beaten Fritz in straight sets in all but one of their previous eight encounters, including last year’s U.S. Open quarterfinals. The exception was here in Australia in 2021, when it went to five.

    The first of the men’s quarterfinals started in the late afternoon after U.S. Open champion Coco Gauff’s 3-hour, 7-6 (6), 6-7 (3), 6-2 victory over Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine.

    The 19-year-old Gauff, on a 12-match winning streak in Grand Slams, will next play defending champion Aryna Sabalenka or Barbora Krejcikova.

    American Taylor Fritz plays a backhand return to top-seeded Novak Djokovic during their Australian Open quarterfinal on Tuesday in Melbourne, Australia. Djokovic won in four sets to reach the Aussie semifinals for the 11th time in his career. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

    ​ Orange County Register