Novak Djokovic branded his defeat by Jannik Sinner to end his long unbeaten Australian Open run as one of the worst performances of his career.
The world number one’s 6-1 6-2 6-7 (6) 6-3 loss in the semi-finals was his first at Melbourne Park since a fourth-round defeat by Chung Hyeon in 2018, ending a 33-match streak taking in four titles.
Djokovic made 54 unforced errors, dropped serve five times and, for the first time in a completed grand slam match, did not create a single break point.
“First I want to congratulate Sinner for playing a great match, great tournament so far,” said the Serbian, who had been chasing a record 25th slam title and 11th here.
“He’s deservedly in the finals. He outplayed me completely today. I was, in a way, shocked with my level, in a bad way. There was not much I was doing right in the first two sets.
“I guess this is one of the worst grand slam matches I’ve ever played. At least that I remember. Not a very pleasant feeling playing this way.”
Sinner was seen as the most likely rival to stop Djokovic ahead of the tournament after beating him twice in two weeks at the end of last season at the ATP Finals and Davis Cup.
“It was a tough match, especially when I lost the third set with match points,” said Sinner. “I just tried to stay as positive as possible, and it went my way today. I’m really happy.”
Djokovic struggled with illness at the start of the fortnight and had a tougher passage through to the last four than usual, losing three sets along the way.
But he is a master at pacing himself in best-of-five-sets tennis and finding his best when it matters so it was a shock to see him so off colour in the first two sets especially.
“But, on the other hand, I didn’t feel really myself on the court during this tournament. One can say semi-finals is a great result, of course, but I always expect the highest of myself.”
There is no doubt the hierarchy in men’s tennis is finally changing, with Sinner, who had not dropped a set prior to this match, now following up Carlos Alcaraz’s Wimbledon final victory over Djokovic with his own grand slam breakthrough.
The Italian is a much more understated character than his fellow young gun but he projects a quiet confidence that has grown noticeably in the last six months.
“I think after last year, especially the end of the year, it gave me confidence that I could potentially do some good results in grand slams. But you still have to show it. There are people who talk a lot, but you have to show it.
“But, if it’s not this year, it’s next year, and then if it’s not next year, it’s the next year again. I’m really relaxed. I just try to work as hard as possible and in my mind I feel like the hard work always pays off in one way, and we are working really hard for our dreams.
“Obviously I’m really happy about Carlos, what he has made and what he is doing. When we play it’s always a good match-up, but at the moment we also have to say that he is further than I am.”
Djokovic will turn 37 in May and, while no one will be writing him off, there is no doubt this is a big blow, with the Serbian having won the title on all 10 previous occasions on which he had reached the last four in Melbourne.
It also emphasises his incredible record here, with Djokovic saying: “I’m kind of hot-headed right now. After the match it’s very difficult to reflect on things in a more profound way.
“Maybe tomorrow, maybe in a few days’ time, but I definitely have a lot to be very proud of in terms of what I have achieved here. The streak was going to end one day.
“This has been a very special city, best, by far, grand slam of my career. I just hope that I’ll get a chance to come back, to play at least another time and go through the emotions once more.
“I still have high hopes for other slams, Olympics, and whatever tournaments that I’ll play. It’s just the beginning of the season.
“This tournament hasn’t been up to my standard or the level that I would normally play or expect myself to play, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the beginning of the end.”