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Australian Open: Can anyone stop Novak Djokovic from claiming historic 10th title in Melbourne?

Novak Djokovic spoke, after brushing aside Andrey Rublev, of a desire to send a message to his remaining rivals. Although his formidable record at the Australian Open means it is scarcely needed with the Serbian aiming for an historic 10th title and a return to world No 1

Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts during his quarterfinal against Andrey Rublev of Russia at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
Image: Novak Djokovic has made the last four of the Australian Open nine times previously and claimed the trophy on each occasion

If Tommy Paul, Stefanos Tsitsipas or Karen Khachanov are to lift the Australian Open title on Sunday, they will need to do what no player has managed since Novak Djokovic won for the first time in Melbourne 15 years ago.

The Serbian has made the last four nine times previously and claimed the trophy on each occasion, and the odds are firmly on him reaching double figures.

Concerns over a hamstring injury appear to have receded, and a desire to stay on the front foot and avoid too much running has led to Djokovic crushing Alex De Minaur and Andrey Rublev in back-to-back matches for the loss of just 12 games in six sets.

Novak Djokovic and Tommy Paul at the Australian Open
Image: Djokovic will take on American Tommy Paul for a spot in Sunday's final

"Playing against two guys that are really good players, in-form players, to beat them dominantly in three sets, is definitely something that I want in this moment, something that sends a message to all my opponents remaining in the draw," said the Serbian.

"With this kind of game, of course the confidence level rises. I feel good on the court, better and better as the tournament progresses. I've been in this situation so many times in my life, in my career, never lost a semi-final in (the) Australian Open. Hopefully, that will stay the same."

His next opponent is 25-year-old Paul, who will play in a Grand Slam semi-final for the first time.

Something of a late bloomer, Paul is one of 10 American men who will be in the top 50 at the end of this tournament and it appears they are finally out of the doldrums that followed Andy Roddick's retirement a decade ago.

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Should Paul beat Djokovic, he would be the first American to make the men's singles final here since Andre Agassi in 2003.

"That's all we've been hearing, since like 14-years-old," said Paul. "The coaches have been telling us, 'we need new Americans, we need new Americans'. It's kind of engraved in my head.

"We all want to perform. Obviously Frances (Tiafoe) was pretty damn close at US Open to getting past the semis. Who knows what would have happened in the finals? I think we all want it pretty bad for ourselves, but we want it for US tennis too."

The first semi-final will pit two players trying to reach the final here for the first time against each other.

Russian Khachanov made the last four at a Grand Slam for the first time at the US Open last summer, losing to Casper Ruud, while Tsitsipas is more experienced having got to this stage five times previously.

Three of those have been in Melbourne, including the last two years, where he has been defeated on both occasions by Daniil Medvedev.

The only time he has made it past the semi-finals was at the French Open in 2021, when he led Djokovic by two sets to love only for the Serbian to fight back.

Will Djokovic break Agassi's record?

Novak Djokovic has equalled the longest men's singles main draw winning streak at the Australian Open in the Open Era (26 matches since 2019), level with Andre Agassi between 2000 and 2004.

Karen Khachanov and Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Australian Open
Image: Khachanov and Tsitsipas are chasing a maiden Grand Slam title

Tsitsipas has appeared a man on a mission this fortnight as he chases a maiden Slam title, and he credited a shift in his mentality.

"There is this one sort of way of looking at tennis that you're really exhausted after every match," he said. "Every single thing you try to do on the court takes a lot of effort.

"There's this other version of tennis where you're doing your job but you're enjoying it so much you don't care if it's exhausting or not. You're refreshed by it every single time.

"I think I'm heading towards more of that lately than the other thing. I'm very happy to be out on the court. I'm very happy to be performing. I'm very happy to hit some good shots.

"It's just this whole dynamic that has made me very hungry and has created a lot of desire for me to be playing tennis, wanting to achieve new things."

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