Novak Djokovic of Serbia waves to the crowd as he leaves Rod Laver Arena. AP
Melbourne: When all was done and dusted, the applause took in, the fist clenched and heavens thanked, Novak Djokovic, stood next to Jim Courier and sent a message to seven remaining men in the Australian Open draw.
“Tonight, I didn’t feel anything. I thank my medical team, I thank God. I don’t want to celebrate too early, I know that things can change. I am pleased with the way I moved and hit the ball,” he said of his leg injury.
A left hamstring injury has seen him miss practice sessions, not put full force into shots, be heavily taped, and need regular attention. He looked to be in serious discomfort in his previous match against Grigor Dimitrov. The Serb acknowledged taking pills every week to alleviate the pain.
“We take it day by day. We do a lot of things actually. It’s been honestly exhausting to be involved in a lot of different treatments and machines and stuff that we do,” he elaborated later.
“At the same time, it was necessary. It is necessary in order to get myself in a condition to play. So I’m really glad that my body has responded really well. Tonight I didn’t feel any pain. I moved as well as I did the whole tournament. It means we are progressing in the right direction.”
Despite the pain and physical hardship, Djokovic has dropped just one set. On Monday, against Aussie Alex de Minaur, the former World No. 1 was in his prime. The nine-time Australian Open champion demolished De Minaur for the loss of just five games – 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 – to move into a 13th quarter-final in Melbourne.
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The 35-year-old appeared to be a man on a mission with a goal of closing this out as quickly as possible. “I really wanted to win in straight sets,” said 35-year-old Djokovic who is hoping to go level with Rafael Nadal on 22 Grand Slam titles with a win on Sunday.
The two-hour-and-six-minute romp put him on a collision course with Andrey Rublev who won the day in dramatic fashion.
“Obviously you never know what’s going to happen on the court… I thought the first four or five games were quite close, but after one break in the first set, I felt more loose and free to go through the ball and be more aggressive.
“I played the best match of this year so far.”
Best match of the year? Bear in mind, Djokovic won the Adelaide warm-up tournament where he won all but one match in straight sets. This fortnight, he’s already bageled two of his opponents.
Such was Novak’s dominance that De Minaur had 0 groundstroke winners (to Djokovic’s 17) and forced the Australian into making 37 errors.
“Another level to mine. I was just trying to hang on,” said the Aussie later. “It felt like he could hit winners from every place in the court. I didn’t really know what to do.”
The win also earns him a couple of milestones. A 13th Australian Open quarter-final is fourth most behind Roger Federer, Nadal, and John Newcombe. It is his 54th Grand Slam quarter-final appearance in total — second only to the retired Federer’s 58.
Djokovic, thus, continues his unbeaten run at the Australian Open where he’s undefeated since 2018. That racks up his tally to 25 consecutive matches won.
As the only remaining Grand Slam champion in the draw, he is the overwhelming favorite now if there were any doubts before. The injury might have given some of his peers hope but that, perhaps, isn’t a cause for concern anymore either.
“I think looking at the performance tonight, the game is greatly affected when I have less worry about what’s happening with the leg when I don’t need to think about, calculate whether I’m going to go for a certain ball or not. When I’m free in my mind, I mean, this is what happens on the court like tonight.”
Everyone else, watch out – Novak’s on the prowl again.
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