Lucas Pouille was the punching bag but the blows were for Rafael Nadal as Novak Djokovic stormed through to an Australian Open final clash with his great rival.
Twenty-four hours after Nadal defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas for the loss of just six games, Djokovic needed only an hour and 23 minutes to dispatch Frenchman Pouille 6-0 6-2 6-2 in one of the most one-sided semi-finals in grand slam history.
Djokovic has at times looked below his best this tournament, dropping sets to Denis Shapovalov and Daniil Medvedev, but he took to Rod Laver Arena on Friday evening determined to make a statement.
Asked if he was trying to outdo Nadal, a smiling Djokovic replied: “Yes. It was hard to do that, but somehow I managed.
“He has played impressively well throughout the entire tournament. He hasn’t dropped a set. He looked as good as ever on the hard court throughout these few weeks.
“I haven’t played bad myself the last couple of matches. I think that this final comes at the right time for both of us. I’m sure we’re going to have a blast on the court.
“We can promise one thing, and that’s knowing both of us are going to give absolutely everything out on the court. I think people will enjoy it.
“He’s my biggest rival in my career. I’ve played so many matches against him, epic matches on this court. Of course, the one that stands out was the final of six hours almost in 2012. Hopefully we don’t go that long this time.”
That clash, which Djokovic won 7-5 in the fifth set after five hours and 53 minutes, was the longest slam final in history and also the last time they met at Melbourne Park.
In total, they have played each other 52 times, with Djokovic leading 27-25, although Nadal has a 9-5 advantage in slams.
Djokovic, who is bidding to become the first man to win seven titles at Melbourne Park, said he would definitely buy a ticket for Sunday’s final were he a fan – but his young children Stefan and Tara will not be treated to the 2012 epic as a preview.
“I’ll probably not have them sit down and watch it because I don’t like my children to watch TV that long,” he said.
“Some matches that we had against each other were a great turning point in my career. I feel they have made me rethink my game.
“I had some disappointing moments where I lost to him. Those kind of encounters have also made me the player I am today, without a doubt.
“These are the kind of matches that you live for, finals of slams, playing the greatest rivals at their best. What more can you ask for? This is where you want to be.”
It will be a first meeting for the pair since another of their most memorable battles in the last four of Wimbledon last summer, which Djokovic won 10-8 in the fifth set after a mere five hours and 15 minutes across two days.
Djokovic went on to win his first slam title in two years, add another one at the US Open and return to the top of the rankings.
“That was the match that has mentally turned things around for me mostly,” he said. “Winning against Nadal 10-8 in the fifth set, that has catapulted me, I think, mentally to a different, more confident self. It has allowed me to then excel in the months to come after that.”
Djokovic called the performance against Pouille one of the best of his career at Melbourne Park, and it was practically faultless, with the Serbian hitting 24 winners and only five unforced errors.
Poor shell-shocked Pouille was appearing in his first slam semi-final but it was all over before he had time to try to settle into the situation.
“I think he just played amazing,” said the 24-year-old. “He was too good today. I think when he’s playing like this, he’s the best in the world for sure. We’ll see on Sunday how he goes, because Rafa looks pretty amazing, too. I think they are going to make a great match again.”