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    Australian Open

    Novak Djokovic finishes David Ferrer to reach final

    Much to the delight of the crowd, Novak Djokovic took a break from tennis duties to act as medic for Henri Leconte.
    Much to the delight of the crowd, Novak Djokovic took a break from tennis duties to act as medic for Henri Leconte.

    MELBOURNE — Two points from elimination in a wild, late-night ride of a fourth round, Novak Djokovic has not squandered his reprieve.

    He is now back to playing tennis on a higher plane and back in the final of another Australian Open. On Thursday night, he even gave himself the rare chance to get to bed at a reasonable hour in Melbourne by transforming his night-session semifinal with David Ferrer into a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 rout.

    Ferrer is a name that evokes winces in the men’s game. The Spaniard works up a sweat before he even makes it onto the court and takes it from there. Though his game is more subtle and varied than the stereotype that sticks with him, he is not nicknamed ‘‘The Wall’’ for nada.


    But for now, his roadblock remains the semifinal round of a Grand Slam tournament. This was his fifth crack at a major final, and this time he was to Djokovic what the Washington Generals are to the Harlem Globetrotters: a hustling, bustling prop to help remind others of Djokovic’s brilliance.

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    ‘‘He played very, very good, no?’’ said the fourth-seeded Ferrer. ‘‘I didn’t have any chance to win tonight.’’

    Ferrer, now 30, was perhaps a bit weary after his great, five-set escape against Nicolas Almagro in the quarterfinals; perhaps wearier still after playing seven tournaments last year and pushing through to the Davis Cup final while his leading rivals rested.

    Ferrer had beaten Djokovic five times in their 14 previous matches but never on an outdoor hard court and never in a Grand Slam tournament. Though he is rightly known as one of the world’s great returners, he could win only seven points against Djokovic’s serve Thursday. Meanwhile, Djokovic was capitalizing on all seven of his own break points.

    It was a night, however brief, of magic numbers, and the 1 hour and 29 minutes Djokovic required to win was 3 hours and 33 minutes less than he required for his marathon fourth-round match against Stan Wawrinka.


    ‘‘Playing semifinals against the world No. 4, somebody that I have respect for, a great competitor, and being able to perform as well as I did, it’s incredible,’’ Djokovic said. ‘‘I have a great feeling about myself on the court at this moment.’’

    Djokovic is trying to become the first man in the Open era to win the Australian Open three straight times. This is the only Grand Slam tournament that stages the men’s semifinals on different nights, which means that while Roger Federer and Andy Murray will duke it out on Friday night, perhaps for quite some time, Djokovic will have the option of turning out the lights and getting some extra sleep.

    Or perhaps not.

    ‘‘Tennis is my life,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m not just a player. I’m also a fan of this sport. I love to see these big matches.’’

    He did some extra duty in Rod Laver Arena on Thursday night. After his destruction of Ferrer was completed, a legends doubles match was put on court between Frenchmen Guy Forget and Henri Leconte, Australia’s Pat Cash and Croatia’s Goran Ivanisevic.


    With Leconte, one of the game’s leading imps, feigning a malaise, Djokovic appeared wearing a laboratory coat bearing a Red Cross symbol on the front and back and proceeded to administer emergency medical treatment including mock mouth-to-mouth respiration.

    The crowd roared with approval.

    ‘‘The diagnosis we determined with my assistant is that he’s definitely crazy,’’ Djokovic said of Leconte. ‘‘He needs a long-term treatment.’’

    Victoria Azarenka earned her berth in the women’s final against Li Na with a 6-1, 6-4 win over American teenager Sloane Stephens late Thursday. The victory was packed with drama and ended with the top-ranked Azarenka defending herself against accusations of gamesmanship by leaving the court for a medical timeout.

    Serving for the match at 5-3, the 23-year-old Azarenka wasted five match points, lost her serve — then called a timeout. She sat with a trainer and left the court during a nine-minute medical break. She returned to close out the match by breaking Stephens’s serve.

    But she raised suspicion during her interview on center court.

    ‘‘Well, I almost did the choke of the year,’’ a relieved Azarenka said to the crowd. ‘‘I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized I’m one step away from the final and nerves got into me for sure.

    ‘‘I love to play here and I just couldn’t lose, that’s why I was so upset.’’