By Anthony L. Cuaycong
It would be an understatement to contend that Novak Djokovic will be the overwhelming favorite against Tommy Paul in the semifinals of the Australian Open. It isn’t simply that the latter has already been around a lot and yet will be making the Round of Four for the first time in 14 major tournament appearances. It’s that the 2021 champion of the first event in the Grand Slam rota appears close to invincible once more.
Not that Djokovic is in unfamiliar territory. In fact, it can be reasonably argued that the World Number Five is most at home Down Under. It’s where he has claimed a whopping nine of his 21 major titles, and where his uncanny capacity for constructing points — unparalleled in any case — is even more evident. The GreenSet acrylic surface of the courts at Melbourne Park are a perfect complement to his predilection for aggressive counterpunching.
In other words, the title is Djokovic’s to lose. Never mind that he was deported last year for his refusal to be vaccinated in compliance with then-prevailing COVID-19 border protocols. Forget that he’s nursing a left hamstring injury that appeared to hamper him in the first two rounds. Since then, he has played near-flawless tennis; Alex de Minaur and Andrey Rublev, his last two opponents seeded 22nd and fifth, respectively, could muster only token opposition.
Interestingly, resistance to Djokovic’s smooth sailing seems to be more pronounced off the court. Precisely because he has been dominant, not a few quarters have questioned if he’s really less than 100% physically as he claims. The criticism is misplaced, to be sure; after all, his performance with a racket in hand is all that matters. And when he goes up against unseeded Paul today, he’ll be at nothing less than his best.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.