Novak Djokovic remained on track to capture a record-extending 10th Australian Open title Saturday when he defeated Grigor Dimitrov to reach the fourth round. However, question marks remain over the Serbian’s fitness as he once again struggled with a hamstring injury.
“It kind of always starts well in the past few matches, including this one, and then some movement happens and then [the leg] gets worse,” said Djokovic, who received two medical timeouts during his three-hour, seven-minute win. “The pills kicked in, some hot cream and stuff. That works for a little bit, then it doesn’t work again. It’s really a roller coaster.
“It requires a lot of energy that is being spent from my side mentally and physically, to deal with the match with my opponent and also not the ideal physical state. But it is what it is. It’s a kind of circumstances that you have to accept. I’m just very grateful that I’m actually able to play. The way it looked just before the tournament started, I thought that it wouldn’t be possible. I’m still here and still holding on.”
Djokovic entered the event with a left hamstring injury suffered en route to the title in Adelaide. The 35-year-old, who will return to No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings if he wins a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title in Melbourne, was pleased with how he battled against the 27th seed.
“I think I started the match really well, feeling good. [Then] it kind of went up and down feeling physically with my leg. I just found a way to win in such an exciting match, big battle, over three hours for three sets,” Djokovic said. “If I lost one of these sets, we could have gone the distance. God knows how long. We already had some matches over five hours during this tournament. This looked to be another one. I’m just really very fortunate to get through in straight sets.”
Djokovic lost just seven games during his victory against Roberto Carballes Baena in the first round. However, he struggled physically throughout his second-round meeting with Enzo Couacaud before eventually prevailing in four sets.
Despite his injury issues, the World No. 4 is determined to continue going at the first major of the season.
“I did not want to pull out for the tournament because I wanted to see how it’s going to feel on the court. The first match was good. The second match I struggled a lot. I had a couple of moments where it was really bad today, as well,” Djokovic said.
“But I managed to, as I said, survive and kind of pull it through. I’ll take it match by match. I don’t know what awaits, but I do hope and I have faith for the best.”
With a spot in the quarter-finals on the line, Djokovic will next face Australian Alex de Minaur.