January 24, 2019 / 11:35 AM / a month ago

Djokovic backs Pouille to knock on top-10 door after Melbourne run

Tennis - Australian Open - Quarter-final - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, January 23, 2019. France's Lucas Pouille celebrates after winning the match against Canada's Milos Raonic. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

(Reuters) - Lucas Pouille may be the Australian Open’s surprise package but his semi-final opponent Novak Djokovic said the Frenchman has the qualities to build on his good start to the season and firmly establish himself as a top 10 player.

Pouille burst onto the scene in 2016 with a stunning victory over Rafa Nadal at the U.S. Open and broke into the top 10 last year before slipping down the ATP rankings in subsequent months due to a lack of enthusiasm for the sport.

The 24-year-old approached former Grand Slam champion Amelie Mauresmo to be his coach and showed that he was back in love with the game by beating the big-serving Milos Raonic in four sets to reach his maiden Grand Slam semi-final.

“I always thought he’s a great quality player. What he has done this tournament is fantastic. He has won against some top players,” top seed Djokovic said of the world number 31.

“He struggled a little bit with consistency in the last two years. But with the quality of the tennis that he possesses, he deserves to be at the top 15, maybe top 10 of the world. He’s got that quality and potential no question about it.”

Djokovic will be fresh going into his first career meeting with Pouille after an easy quarter-final outing where his ailing opponent Kei Nishikori retired midway through the contest.

“I’m looking forward to a battle. Obviously it’s his first semi-finals at a Slam, but he has won against Nadal in New York some years ago, and he’s made advances at the big tournaments,” six-times Melbourne champion Djokovic added.

“It’s funny that we’re going to play for the first time against each other. We’ve practiced many times. We’ve known each a long time.

“He’s not afraid to play his best on the biggest stage. So I expect him to come out, be confident as he always is... looking forward to it.”

Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Jon Boyle

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