Novak Djokovic was once again pushed physically at the Australian Open on Saturday, but he found a way to keep alive his quest for a record-extending 10th title at Melbourne Park.
Struggling with the hamstring injury that has plagued him since Adelaide, Djokovic looked in discomfort throughout his clash against Grigor Dimitrov. However, the Serbian dug deep and overcame the 27th seed 7-6(7), 6-3, 6-4 to reach the fourth round.
“Every point and game mattered,” Djokovic said. “The turning point for both players was right from the start. Making an early break was important. I didn’t know how I was going to feel physically. I was going up and down. Grigor is someone that I truly admire and respect. He is one of my best friends on Tour. We go back a long time. He is one of the most talented players you will see. He is such a great athlete.”
In a tight clash, the former World No. 1 scrambled to win the first set, saving three set points before he converted his fifth set point with a diving forehand volley. After winning the set, the 35-year-old dragged himself to his feet and received a medical timeout, with coach Goran Ivanisevic watching on, concerned.
Despite his hamstring worry, Djokovic remained calm and stuck to his task on court, playing with consistency to seal the second and third sets. The fourth seed, who struck 28 winners and committed 22 unforced errors, received a second medical timeout at 4-1 in the third set. However, Djokovic returned to court where he was able to finish the job, winning a series of gruelling rallies in his final service game to triumph. Djokovic will next play Australian Alex de Minaur.
“I thought a double break in the third was going to be enough, but he was locked in. Up until the very last shot, I did not know if I was going to prevail,” Djokovic said. “It was an incredible battle. Three sets, over three hours. Let’s rest up and prepare for the next one.”
Djokovic now leads Dimitrov 10-1 in their ATP Head2Head series following his three-hour, seven-minute win. The 35-year-old 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.
Earlier this month, he won his 92nd tour-level crown at an ATP 250 event in Adelaide. The Serbian holds an 8-0 record on the season. Dimitrov was aiming to reach the fourth round in Melbourne for the seventh time. The 31-year-old’s best result at the hard-court major came in 2017, when he advanced to the semi-finals.