Novak Djokovic admitted the furore over his father being filmed with supporters of Vladimir Putin affected him ahead of his Australian Open semi-final victory against Tommy Paul.
The Serbian will take on Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday in his 33rd grand slam final bidding to equal Rafael Nadal’s record tally of 22 titles, while the winner will overtake Carlos Alcaraz as world number one.
His 7-5 6-1 6-2 victory over American Paul looks straightforward on the scoreboard but it certainly did not feel that way when Djokovic lost four games in a row from 5-1 up in the opening set.
NOVAK IS GOING FOR 10 🏆 👀@DjokerNole • #AusOpen • #AO2023 pic.twitter.com/4r3pfX0AxU— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 27, 2023
Srdjan Djokovic released a statement on Friday saying he had been unwittingly caught up in the pro-Russia demonstration as he took pictures with his son’s fans and had decided not to attend the match to ensure there was “no disruption”.
Djokovic Sr was included as part of a YouTube video released by a Russian activist. The subtitles on the video stated Srdjan Djokovic had made a pro-Russia comment, but Serbian media translated it simply as him bidding the men farewell.
Speaking at a press conference, Djokovic said: “It was unfortunate that the misinterpretation of what happened has escalated to such a high level. There was a lot of conversations with the tournament director, with media and everyone else.
“It has got to me, of course, as well. I was not aware of it until last night. Then, of course, I was not pleased to see that.
“My father, my whole family, and myself, have been through several wars during the 90s. As my father put in a statement, we are against the war, we never will support any violence or any war. We know how devastating that is for the family, for people in any country that is going through the war.
“The photo that he made, he was passing through. I heard what he said in the video. He said, ‘Cheers’. Unfortunately some of the media has interpreted that in a really wrong way.
“There was a lot of Serbian flags around. That’s what he thought. He thought he was making a photo with somebody from Serbia.
“Of course, it’s not pleasant for me to go through this with all the things that I had to deal with last year and this year in Australia. It’s not something that I want or need. I hope that people will let it be, and we can focus on tennis.”
A decision has not yet been made over whether Djokovic’s father will attend the final.
“He was misused in this situation by this group of people,” said Djokovic. “I can’t be angry with him or upset because I can say it was not his fault. He went out to celebrate with my fans, and that’s it.
“After that, of course he felt bad because of me and he knew how that’s going to reflect on me.
“Of course, it wasn’t pleasant not to have him in the box. It’s a decision that we made together. Just didn’t know how things will play out, I guess. I hope he’s going to be feeling OK to be in the courts because I would like to have him there for the finals.”
There was a lively atmosphere in Rod Laver on Friday night, with support for first-time slam semi-finalist Paul growing as he threatened to do the unthinkable in the first set.
A row with umpire Damien Dumusois over when to start the shot clock seemed to be the catalyst as Djokovic remarkably lost 11 of 13 points, dropping serve twice in succession to go from 5-1 to 5-4.
But Paul was unable to hold his own serve to force a tie-break and, to boos from the crowd, Djokovic returned to his seat gesturing for the noise to get louder.
The 35-year-old, who has now won a record 27 consecutive matches at Melbourne Park, relaxed thereafter and breezed into the final.
“I’m, of course, very satisfied and pleased to be in another grand slam final,” said Djokovic. “This is exactly what I’ve imagined and hoped will happen when I came to Australia.”
A sizzling semifinal ends in Greek glory 🇬🇷 @steftsitsipas overcomes a valiant Karen Khachanov to reach his first #AusOpen final.— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 27, 2023
It ends 7-6(2) 6-4 6-7(6) 6-3 👏#AO2023 pic.twitter.com/jsik2uaovL
Paul was left with mixed feelings, with the 25-year-old saying of his first match against Djokovic: “Walking on the court was cool. Playing the match and getting beaten like that kind of sucked.”
Earlier, Tsitsipas overcame a third-set wobble to defeat Karen Khachanov 7-6 (1) 6-4 6-7 (6) 6-3 and reach his first Australian Open final.
The Greek looked set to win comfortably but was unable to serve out the match in the third set and then missed two match points in the tie-break before regrouping.
He will now try to go one better than his only previous slam final at the French Open in 2021, when he led Djokovic by two sets to one but lost out in five.