MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic said he was looking forward to the next installment of his great rivalry with Roger Federer after he beat Kei Nishikori to set up an Australian Open semifinals with the Swiss.
The five-time winner and world number one overcame an off-key Nishikori 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in two hours, seven minutes on Rod Laver Arena to reach the last four.
Djokovic will now face 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer in their 45th meeting, with each player locked at 22-22 wins in their head-to-head.
It will be 10-time major-winner Djokovic’s 29th Grand Slam semifinals and sixth in Melbourne.
“It’s always a great challenge to play Roger,” Djokovic said of Thursday’s semifinals. “Any round feels like a final because of the fact that we are big rivals, we played so many times against each other.
“There’s a lot of tension. There’s a lot at stake. I’m expecting a great fight in two days.”
Djokovic, with his win over Nishikori, extended his unbeaten Grand Slam run to 19 matches and has not lost at a major tournament since he was defeated by Stan Wawrinka in last year’s French Open finals.
The Serb’s longest Grand Slam streak stands at 27, which took in the titles at 2011 Wimbledon, the 2011 US Open and the 2012 Australian Open, and a runner-up finish at 2012 Roland Garros.
Solid but unspectacular
Seventh seed Nishikori upset Djokovic in the 2014 US Open semifinals but he was well off the pace against the Serb in their Melbourne quarterfinals.
Djokovic only hit 11 ground-stroke winners in disposing of Japan’s Nishikori, who made a total of 54 unforced errors and had his service broken six times.
“I knew that I was going to play against an opponent who plays faster than [previous opponent Gilles]Simon, and who also makes more unforced errors,” Djokovic said.
“I tried to weather the storm, hang in there. He came up and played first couple games very quick. Took the ball early, being very aggressive from both corners.
“I was solid. I was determined, focused. In important points and moments I managed to stay composed and make him play an extra shot. Overall it was a very solid performance.”
Nishikori looked well off his game and lost his service at 3-2 in the first set with a badly miscued double-fault.
Djokovic strung together nine straight points to take a grip on the set and wrapped it up off an overhit Nishikori forehand on set point.
The match was not of a high standard with both players guilty of volleying errors, but Nishikori’s early service break proved decisive as Djokovic took a two sets lead with a strong first serve.
The top seed came under pressure after losing serve in the second game of the third set, only for Nishikori to hand back the break with a long forehand on break point.
Djokovic was again broken as Nishikori battled to get back into the contest at 3-1, only for the Japanese hope to again drop his next service.
Nishikori lost his third straight service game as Djokovic powered to victory on his third match point with a lightning backhand winner.