22-year-old wasted no time putting his stamp on the first semifinal at this year’s Australian Open, breaking early and often en route to a career-defining upset of World #1 Novak Djokovic.
Jannik Sinner def. Novak Djokovic 61 62 67(6) 63
Honestly, there isn’t too much to write about most of this match. It was not a great match in terms of quality or excitement. In fact, if not for the noteworthy fact of Djokovic losing a match in Melbourne, we would probably call this match underwhelming for a Major semifinal. Djokovic could not find the court for most of the first two sets, hitting an absurd number of unforced errors as Sinner’s consistent and powerful play pushed Djokovic. We can debate if it was more Djokovic playing poorly, and out of sorts, or Sinner playing well, but it was certainly a mix of both.
The match turned in the third set, though, as Djokovic found the range on his serve. The serve carried him through the set, even as most of the rest of his game stayed flat. Slowly, though, as the serve buoyed his game, Djokovic then found the range from the baseline. He was still nowhere near his peak level, but at least he looked like a top player again. The Serbian couldn’t break, but Sinner got a bit tense late in the set, and after squandering a late minibreak the Italian lost the set in the tiebreak, as Djokovic carried the match into a 4th set without breaking Sinner’s serve the entire match to that point.
In the 4th set, Sinner maintained his front footed advantage and even under increasing pressure he showed the range of his game, he broke Djokovic for a 3-1 lead when Djokovic was 40-0 up in the service game and fought to consolidate his break for a 4-1 lead. Remaining composed and playing less error prone tennis than the experienced campaigner Djokovic, who was intensely frustrated as he fell behind in the 4th set. He would get one last look in down 3-5 against Sinner but the Italian would ride his trusted serve once more, winning the fourth set and the match 6-3 to close it out.
Djokovic had not lost a match at the Australian Open since 2018. (The Serbian did not compete in 2022 due to his vaccination status fiasco.) He had also never lost in the semifinal (or the final) in Melbourne. In his career, he was an astounding 20-0 once he won a quarterfinal in Melbourne.
So what exactly caused this loss? Was it just a bad day at the office? Was Djokovic a bit ill? Did his time on court from earlier rounds finally catch up to him? Or, maybe, after over a decade, the field has finally caught Djokovic? We’ll see as the season advances, but this has to be a troubling sign for Djokovic, who has been a dominant #1 for the vast majority of the time since 2011. He’s locked into the #1 ranking until at least March (and likely until at least June) and is coming off a dominant 2023 season, so he’s still at the top of the game. But it makes us wonder if 2024 will be the beginning of his decline. Father Time has to catch up to Djokovic someday, right? Even if it hasn’t, the young Italian Jannik Sinner has proven he has Djokovic’s number and has the game to dismantle the Serbian superstar.
Main Photo Credit: Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports