WE ended up with a rather comfortable winner on Thursday when Rafael Nadal was on fine form and much too good for Stefanos Tsitsipas to cope with in their semi-final.
Nadal covered the -6.5 games handicap with ease, dishing out a bagel in set three and moves through to the final to face either Lucas Pouille or Novak Djokovic.
That pair are set to lock horns at around 08:30 UK time on Friday (19:30 local time).
Novak Djokovic vs Lucas Pouille
Not the semi-final I was expecting, given that we backed Pouille as underdog to snap his poor run of form in Sydney against Andrey Rublev and he lost in straight sets.
He hasn’t lost since and as I said in my preview of Pouille’s clash with Milos Raonic it’s all been about that vastly improved first serve percentage for Pouille, who was at 51% against Rublev, but has averaged 64% this tournament.
As a consequence he’s held serve 93% of the time this Australian Open, with the confidence he’s gained from serving well feeding into the rest of his game, and now he faces perhaps the ultimate test of that belief: a major semi-final on a hard court against Novak Djokovic.
It’s a first career meeting, but we can draw a comparison between this match-up and the one that Pouille had against Andy Murray in which (apart from their last clash when Murray was hobbled after hip surgery) the Brit won all eight sets they contested.
It was a cosy match-up for Murray, but if we look at the first serve percentage of Pouille in those four easy wins for Murray we find that Pouille only found between 45% and 56% of first serves.
That gave him little chance to get on the front foot, but if he continues the remarkably consistent serving that we’ve seen this fortnight the Frenchman may have a chance of at least making this uncomfortable for the Serb.
Djokovic’s record against opponents ranked between 15 and 30 in the world (at the time of the match) at hard courts majors shows that he’s only ever lost one of 29 (against Lleyton Hewitt back in 2006) and he’s won the last 27 in a row, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
In seven of his last 10 against them he’s been taken past the 30.5 total games mark and five of the last nine have been 3-1 wins for Djokovic (including two this tournament).
Indeed, had Daniil Medvedev not blown a golden chance to take a break lead in set three of their encounter when Djokovic looked to be struggling physically it may have turned out to be very interesting.
One could also point out that we haven’t yet seen the best of Djokovic this tournament, although these days he does tend to save his better form until he really needs it.
In his 17 major semi-finals on hard Djokovic is 14-3, with two losses coming at the hands of Roger Federer and one to Kei Nishikori, but again only two of his last seven have been won in fewer than 30.5 games and only two have been straight sets wins.
Certainly one of the big differences between this pair is the return of serve, in which Djokovic consistently produces high numbers of breaks, while Pouille, as with Stefanos Tsitsipas, isn’t quite there yet.
The Frenchman has certainly relied heavily on his serve this tournament, with those 93% holds, but he’s broken only 15.2% of the time and in his last 12 months on this surface he’s broken 18.4% of the time.
That’s unlikely to be good enough against Djokovic, who’s broken serve 42% of the time this fortnight, and usually breaks around 28-29% of the time, based on his last 12 months and last 50 matches on this surface at main level.
Combine that with an 88% hold of serve mark and it looks difficult for Pouille, so for me the wagers of interest here are the over 30.5 games at 1.85 or the 3-1 set betting score to Djokovic at 3.80.
- 0.5 points win over 30.5 games in Djokovic v Pouille (1.85, Unibet)