MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Roger Federer is the first to admit he pays a steep price for all his success. One by one, players try to knock him off, and with each match and each victory expectations grow.

“Of course, I’ve created a monster,” he said. “So I know I need to always win every tournament.”

For one rare night, the monster was tamed.

Federer lost to Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (5) Friday in the Australian Open semifinals, leaving the top-ranked Swiss one match short of making an 11th consecutive Grand Slam final.

“Winning every other week, you know, lose a set and people say I’m playing bad,” Federer said. “So it’s my own mistake, I guess.”

Djokovic will now play unseeded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Sunday, setting up one unlikely title match. The women settle their championship Saturday when Maria Sharapova faces Ana Ivanovic.

Djokovic was 1-6 against Federer going into the match, losing most recently in the U.S. Open final. Federer was in his 15th straight Grand Slam semifinal.

“I am just very amazed I coped with the pressure today,” Djokovic said. “In the most important moments, I played my best tennis. It’s just amazing, indescribable, to beat the No. 1 player of the world, one of the best players this sport has ever had, in straight sets.”

Rafael Nadal, the only player to beat Federer in the previous 10 majors, was thumped 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 by Tsonga, whose looks have been likened to Muhammad Ali’s and his game with Yannick Noah’s.

Djokovic, seeded third, will be a big favorite Sunday after making the semifinals at four straight majors and having been to the U.S. Open final. Tsonga is in his fifth Grand Slam and past the fourth round for the first time.

Djokovic said he drew on his experience in his U.S. Open final loss to Federer, knowing the pressure was mounting on his rival after such an imperious run.

“As one of the top players in the world, you always have a lot of expectations and a lot of pressure on your back,” Djokovic said. “He’s a special case because he’s expected to win everywhere he goes on any surface.”

Djokovic went out with the same intent against Federer that Tsonga had against Nadal. The loss for Nadal was his worst since the 2004 U.S. Open – Federer’s was his worst since the 2004 French Open.

Federer had the chance to serve for the first set at 5-3, but missed. His missed some touch volleys and he missed some forehands that usually are his trademark.

Djokovic broke twice to win that set and twice more to get to 5-1 in the second in an 11-game sequence that changed the match.

“I was able to deal with the pressure in the best possible way. And if you do that against the best player in the world, you should get the positive outcome,” Djokovic said. “I’m very happy that in crucial moments my serve was serving me, and it was probably my best element in the game.”

The 20-year-old Serb said it’s important for tennis to shake things up.

“The dominance of Federer and Nadal was just amazing the last couple of years,” he said. “So I think it’s great for tennis lovers all around the world to see something new.”

Federer’s last straight-sets losses at the Australian Open were in the first rounds in both 2000 and 2001 to Arnaud Clement. Clement and fellow Frenchman Michael Llodra are in the doubles final Saturday against Israelis Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram.

That doubles final follows the women’s championship between No. 5 Sharapova and No. 4 Ivanovic, Djokovic’s Serbian compatriot.

Sharapova, who lost last year’s final 6-1, 6-2 to Serena Williams, is favored to win a third Grand Slam title. She has not dropped a set in six wins, including a quarterfinal victory that ended top-ranked Justine Henin’s 32-match winning streak and a semifinal against No. 3 Jelena Jankovic.

Ivanovic is in her second final in four majors after a three-set win over Daniela Hantuchova, when she rallied after losing the first eight games.

The women’s doubles champions were crowned Friday when Ukrainian sisters Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko downed Victoria Azarenka and Shahar Peer a 2-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Federer had been seeking his third consecutive Australian title. A victory would have pulled him within one championship of Pete Sampras’ record of 14 majors.

His preparation was hampered by a stomach illness that forced him out of his regular tuneup at the Kooyong exhibition event, and he never appeared at his authoritative best.

He was taken to 10-8 in the fifth set but was able to survive the third round over another Serb, Janko Tipsarevic.

But Djokovic – 1-6 against Federer coming into the match – never let the Swiss get settled. He reeled off 13 aces and 50 winners and held serve when a break would have changed momentum.

Not holding serve for the first set “cost me the match,” Federer said.

“You can’t always play your best,” Federer said. “I’ve won, many, many times when I didn’t expect myself to win. So tonight is one of those nights where you’re a little bit disappointed. But it’s going to go over and I’m going to look forward to the rest of the year.”

Federer rubbed his eyes frequently and was subdued in his news conference.

“There is no doubt I have played better before,” he said.

Djokovic said he knows he’s expected to win the final, based on experience and rankings. Tsonga was ranked No. 43 at the end of last year.

“Tsonga is coming up,” he said. “He’s just an amazing athlete and has been performing some impressive tennis in these two weeks, as I did. I didn’t lose even a set here in Australian Open, which is amazing. Obviously, we will not have anything to lose. It’s finals, so anything can happen.”

AP-ES-01-25-08 1722EST

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