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        Djokovic building momentum in drive for nine

        • Gillian Tan

        Novak Djokovic knows a bit about peaking at the right moment.

        The eight-time Australian Open men’s singles champion says he’s playing his best tennis, and favours his chances to extend his own record on Sunday by securing a historic ninth title in Melbourne. It’s a level of Grand Slam dominance that’s solely eclipsed by Rafael Nadal’s incredible 13 Roland Garros victories.

        MORE: Djokovic cruises past Karatsev into ninth AO final

        “I felt as best as I felt so far in the tournament tonight – physically, mentally as well,” Djokovic said after posting a straight-sets win over qualifier Aslan Karatsev in the semifinals.?

        “I'm just very pleased with the performance … before [the] last match in a Grand Slam couldn't be a better [time] for me to play my best tennis. The way I felt today, I liked my chances and I'm definitely going to go for a title.”

        At 33, the world No. 1 is gunning for an 18th major, which would put him just two behind Nadal and Roger Federer, his peers in the “big three”. Sunday will mark Djokovic’s 28th major singles final, tying Nadal’s achievement in Paris last year, and the duo sit behind only Federer, who’s competed for a Grand Slam singles crown on 31 occasions.

        F_Djokovic_Day 7_14022021_01
        Djokovic's serve has been a constant this fortnight in Melbourne

        “Being in this situation before for many times I think helps kind of gather all the necessary elements for me to peak at the right time, which is happening again, which I'm very obviously happy about … I’m feeling great on the court,” Djokovic said.

        The Serb means business – he’s seeking to join Nadal as the only other men’s player to have won six major singles titles in the Open Era after turning 30, and would also be the first man in the Open Era to win a trio of Australian Open titles aged 30 or older if he hoists the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup on Sunday.

        “I'm ready for the battle for the toughest match of the tournament, without a doubt,” said the self-assured top seed, who has remarkably never lost in Melbourne after reaching the final four.?

        He credits part of his success in Australia to timing and being motivated, fresh and inspired immediately after the off-season.

        “Of course it contributes to more confidence, you know, prior to coming into the finals knowing that I never lost in the finals or semifinals – just makes me feel more comfortable being on the court,” he said.?

        “The more I win, the better I feel coming back each year. I think it's kind of also logical to expect that – the love affair keeps going.”

        Still, Djokovic reckons his supremacy and seeming stranglehold at Melbourne Park won’t be a decisive factor. “Each year is different, surface is also different … you play against different opponents,” he mused.?

        The Serb credits his challenging four-set quarterfinal victory over sixth seed Alex Zverev for providing momentum as he works towards a ninth title.?

        “I knew that once I triumphed over Zverev that, you know, things will be better, will get better for me – I just had that kind of inner feeling and proved to be right,” he said.

        “[I’ve] definitely had to stretch myself to the limit in the last five days in every sense, but I'm really pleased that in terms of injury and everything – it’s going in the right direction,” Djokovic said, referring to an abdominal injury sustained in his five-set win over Taylor Fritz in the third round.

        The top seed said he surprisingly competed without pain on Thursday against Karatsev.?

        “Hopefully that will stay the same till the finals,” he said.?

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