MELBOURNE, Australia—Serena Williams has never lost in the semi-finals of the Australian Open.
Neither has Novak Djokovic.
A key difference between the defending champions is that Williams beat the most-experienced and highest-ranked challenger in her half of the draw when she extended her streak to 18-consecutive wins against Maria Sharapova with a 6-4, 6-1 quarter-final victory earlier today.
Williams said she wasn’t aware that she had won the Australian Open all six previous times she won her quarter-final match, “but that’s good.”
“It’s not a stat that’s set in stone,” Williams said.
“I still have to win two matches.”
But five-time champ Djokovic, after beating No. 7 Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, still has a daunting semi-final match against Roger Federer, who has won four of his 17 Grand Slam titles in Australia.
Federer reached his 12th Australian Open semi-final, and 39th in a Grand Slam event, with a 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 6 Tomas Berdych.
He hasn’t gone past the semi-finals at Melbourne Park since winning the title in 2010, but he’s a serious obstacle for Djokovic.
They’re tied at 22-all in career head-to-head matches, with Djokovic catching up since usurping Federer in the rankings.
The tie-breaker will be tricky. Djokovic lost only one of his 28 Grand Slam matches in 2015—to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final—and has won 37 of his last 38 matches at Melbourne Park, a run that includes four titles.
He beat Federer in the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals last year, but Federer was back contending for titles.
“Any round feels like finals because of the fact that we are, you know, big rivals, we played so many times against each other,” Djokovic noted.
“There’s a lot of tension. There’s a lot at stake,” he added.
“I’m expecting a great fight in two days.”
In men’s doubles action, Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil and American partner Jack Sock lost their quarter-final match to Spain’s Marcel Granollers and Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas in three sets.
In the women’s semi-finals, Williams will be facing fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, who beat No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-3.
Radwanska has won one of her previous four semi-finals at a major but never won a Grand Slam title.
Williams is 8-0 against Radwanska, including their meeting in the 2012 Wimbledon final.
Williams said she couldn’t explain her 11-year domination of Sharapova—she has won 19 of their 21 meetings overall—except to say she rises to the big challenges.
“When I play her, I know automatically I have to step up my game,” said Williams, a 21-time major winner.
“I think that makes me play better.
“When I’m forced to play better, I do well,” she reasoned.
Sharapova, meanwhile, hasn’t given up hope of breaking a drought against Williams that goes back to 2004.
“It’s motivating because she’s at a different level,” Sharapova said.
“She makes you go back to the drawing board, not just for me but for many other players,” she noted.
“She [Williams] makes you work. That’s inspiring.”