MELBOURNE—The crowd in Rod Laver Arena came for a semifinal tonight, but what they got looked and felt more like a first-round match. From start to finish, from his first winner to his 30th, Novak Djokovic walked, ran, served, and scrambled with an air of utter self-assurance against David Ferrer. He controlled the points when he was on the attack, and looked just as confident when he was on defense. Djokovic’s 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 win was less like a Grand Slam match against the world No. 4 than it was an exhibition of everything that the Serb can do on a tennis court.
Djokovic hit winners from both sides and to both corners, and his pace and court position were such that he didn’t even have to put the ball close to the lines to get it past the speedy Ferrer. The stats, as you might expect, were impressive. Djokovic was seven for seven on break points, made 86 percent of his returns, won 91 percent of points on his first serve and lost just seven points in 11 service games against a very good returner, went 13 of 16 at the net, and hit 30 winners against 16 errors. As for Ferrer, the only number he could point to as a positive was 89: That’s how many minutes this mercifully brief blowout took.
Ferrer, who didn’t blame his five-set quarterfinal win over Nicolas Almagro for slowing him down, said afterward that there was nothing he could have done. For the second time this week he claimed that, despite his ranking, he’s simply not as good as the world’s four best players. That’s an attitude that helps keep him grounded against other players; he never takes anyone lightly. But tonight it also felt like a self-fulfilling prophecy. He looked like as sure of his own doom as Djokovic did of his ultimate victory.
Djokovic seems to be peaking at the right time in Melbourne. He called this one of the best matches he’s ever played, and it would be hard to argue. Tonight he was a No. 1 player at the peak of his powers. The whole thing went by so quickly that I’m not sure I even saw half of his winners. Every time I looked away and looked back, there was another ball flying past Ferrer, and the score had gotten a little worse for the Spaniard.
What, if anything, does this tell us about Novak’s chances on Sunday? Obviously, he'll be rested. As far as the first set of the final goes, when things are tight and nerves are still in play, his form against Ferrer doesn’t mean anything. But if Djokovic wins that set and starts to feel and play anything like he did tonight, look out.