Question marks were raised about Novak Djokovic’s fitness throughout the first week of the Australian Open. Playing with a hamstring injury that was strapped, the Serbian looked in discomfort throughout his victories against Roberto Carballes Baena, Enzo Couacaud and Grigor Dimitrov.
With all eyes on the Serbian, his fitness fears were put to bed against Alex de Minaur on Monday. In a dominant display, the former World No. 1 moved freely to dispatch the Australian 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 and reach the quarter-finals in Melbourne.
“I really wanted to win in straight sets,” Djokovic said. “You obviously don’t know what is going to happen on the court. I thought the first four, five games was close. After breaking serve in the first set, I started feeling more free and more loose to hit through the ball and be more aggressive.
“I thought he was a bit more nervous towards the end of the second [set] and the beginning of the third set. I thought that was my opportunity to capitalise on those chances. Tennis is a very quick and dynamic sport. Things can change in a matter of moments, matter of points. But I kept my focus all the way through and played the best match of the year so far.”
In their first ATP Head2Head meeting, Djokovic was locked in from the first ball on Rod Laver Arena. He struck his watertight groundstrokes with effortless power and depth to force the home favourite into errors, surging to the first set in just 36 minutes.
After winning the opener, the fourth seed continued to time the ball well. The 35-year-old hammered his backhand down the line to great effect and consistently found a range of angles to push De Minaur wide as he produced his best performance of the fortnight to triumph after two hours and seven minutes.
Djokovic, who won 49 per cent (40/82) of points on De Minaur’s serve, will next play Andrey Rublev after the fifth seed saved two match points en route to edging #NextGenATP Dane Holger Rune in a five-set thriller.
Djokovic is chasing a record-tying 22nd Grand Slam trophy this fortnight and will reclaim No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings if he wins the title. The Serbian has produced his best tennis at Melbourne Park throughout his career, lifting the Australian Open trophy a record nine times.
Earlier this month, he won his 92nd tour-level crown at an ATP 250 in Adelaide. The Serbian, who sustained his hamstring injury at the ATP 250 event, holds a 9-0 record on the season.
World No. 24 De Minaur was aiming to reach the quarter-finals in Melbourne for the first time, having dropped just one set en route to the fourth round. The 23-year-old defeated 22-time major champion Rafael Nadal at the United Cup earlier this month and ends the Australian swing 4-2 on the year.
Did You Know?
Djokovic has now won 25 consecutive matches at the Australian Open, equalling his longest streak of victories at the hard-court major. His last defeat at the event came against Hyeon Chung in 2018.