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Pouille's best-laid plan goes awry against Djokovic

Pouille's best-laid plan goes awry against Djokovic
Tennis - Australian Open - Semi-final - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, January 25, 2019. France's Lucas Pouille in action during his match against Serbia's Novak Djokovic. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi   -   Copyright  ADNAN ABIDI(Reuters)
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By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Former heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson’s assertion that everyone has a plan until they are punched in the face can never have rung truer for Lucas Pouille after the Frenchman was thrashed in 83 minutes by Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open on Friday.

The 24-year-old said he had devised a strategy with his coach Amelie Mauresmo to topple the top seed in the semi-final at a floodlit Rod Laver Arena.

It all came to nothing during a stinging 6-0 6-2 6-2 defeat, and like so many other young hopefuls who come up against the Serbian juggernaut, Pouille was left to sift through the rubble for one or two positives.

“I didn’t have time to put a strategy in the match,” the 28th seed told reporters.

“The strategy was to be aggressive, try to be the one who’s leading the point.

“But when he’s playing that far from the baseline, 10 centimetres from the baseline all the time, it’s tough to do it.”

Pouille had enjoyed a fine tournament until that point, upsetting former semi-finalist Milos Raonic in his previous match after beating young gun Borna Coric in the round of 16.

Having never won at Melbourne Park prior to this year’s tournament, the Frenchman dared to dream of giving the six-times champion a shake.

Djokovic had other plans, of course, and broke him in the second game, then another six times for the match to set up a battle royale for the title against long-time rival Rafa Nadal.

If not winning a point with a first serve immediately, Djokovic was quickly behind it, ready to smack a winner with his second shot.

“I think my one-two punches have worked pretty well throughout this tournament,” a serene Djokovic told reporters.

Pouille, meanwhile, struggled to land a blow as his serve misfired.

“If I wanted to get closer or arrive at the end of one set 4-4, I had to serve 90 or 100 percent (with my) first serve,” he said.

“I was 45 percent in the first set. That was a bit too low against him.”

Pouille became Djokovic’s 28th successive French victim at the Grand Slams but there was little shame in losing to a man seemingly at the peak of his powers.

He could spare a thought for Greek 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, who managed only six games against second seed Nadal in the other semi-final on Thursday.

“I think when (Djokovic) is playing like this, yeah, he’s the best in the world for sure,” said Pouille.

“We’ll see on Sunday how he goes, because Rafa looks pretty amazing, too. I think they’re going to make a great match again.”

(Editing by Toby Davis)

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