By JOHN PYE
MELBOURNE — Novak Djokovic is back at the stage of the Australian Open where he’s never been beaten.
The 10-time champion held off Taylor Fritz 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 in 3 3/4 hours on Tuesday to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the 11th time.
He’s won all 10 semifinals he’s contested at Melbourne Park, and all 10 finals.
In his record-extending 48th Grand Slam semifinal, he’ll play No. 4-seeded Jannik Sinner or No. 5 Andrey Rublev. They started their quarterfinal at 10:42 p.m.
Djokovic has spent more time on court so far through five rounds than ever at Melbourne Park — more than 15 hours — but thinks he’s still building into it. He’s on a 33-match winning streak at the Australian Open — a tournament record he shared with his childhood inspiration, Monica Seles — so he should know.
The first game took 16 minutes and the first set lasted 1 hour, 24 minutes. Fritz got the first break of serve, and Djokovic said he was on the back foot at times until the third set.
“Credit to him for playing really well. You could see that he had a clear game plan. He was really sharp,” Djokovic said. “So it was definitely a struggle for me to play the first couple sets.
“In the third, things started to come together. I started to swing through the ball better. I started to feel better on the court. Serve, also. I wasn’t serving well at all first two sets, and then third and fourth, great.”
Fritz saved the first 15 breakpoints he faced, an unheard of stat against one of the best returners ever.
“My conversion was really poor but in the end of the day, I managed to break him when it mattered,” Djokovic said. “I upped my game midway through the third set, all the way to the end.”
The match started in bright sunlight and almost 32-degree (90 Fahrenheit) heat, and the shade moved from west to east across the court from behind the umpire’s chair.
The first game set the tone for a long, tough match. It contained 24 points, going to deuce nine times. Fritz fended off three breakpoints before finally holding.
Then followed the longest first set of the tournament.
After Fritz held in the 11th game, Djokovic was agitated in the changeover and gesturing to get the attention of his support team, calling for salts.
But after holding and taking the set to a tiebreaker, Djokovic finished a 21-shot rally with a stunning backhand crosscourt winner to get five set points. He put his finger to his ear, nodded his head and blew a kiss toward a commentary box at the rear of the court.
It was Fritz who got the first service break to open the second set, having fended off eight in the first set against him.
He saved another seven break point chances in the second, mostly with clean winners, and maintained the break to level at one set apiece, closing with an ace.
After all that resistance, though, Fritz was broken in the second game of the third set when Djokovic converted his 16th chance. Djokovic broke again, at love, in the ninth game to wrap up the third set in 38 minutes.
In the fourth, Fritz struggled to hold in a game that contained 14 points and then was broken in the sixth. He hit back immediately, converting his second break point with a forehand that clipped the net and dropped for a winner.
But Djokovic denied anymore twists by breaking back again for 5-3 and serving out.
Fritz said he played some of his best tennis to save all the break points but Djokovic kept lifting: “He’s so fast. He doesn’t really miss a lot of balls. It’s also the lack of free points he gives you.
“There is a dropoff … it was two sets, but, I mean, I’ve played four sets in that time,” Fritz added. “It’s tough to just sustain that level for probably two, three more hours that I needed to when I haven’t really gotten to play at that level and play against that level that often.”
Djokovic had beaten Fritz in straight sets in all but one of their previous eight encounters, including last year’s U.S. Open quarterfinals. The exception was here in Australia in 2021, when it went to five.
Djokovic was interviewed on court by Australian player Nick Kyrgios, who has been sidelined with a long-term injury.
The pair swapped banter before Djokovic suggested they get some popcorn, kick back on the couch and watch on TV as Sinner and Rublev compete for the other spot in the semifinal.