An ailing Novak Djokovic ground past GrigorDimitrov on Saturday and into the last 16 as the nine-time Australian Open champion edged closer to a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title.
The Serbian fourth seed came through a titanic 77-minute first set before taming the Bulgarian 7-6 (9/7), 6-3, 6-4 on Rod Laver Arena, needing treatment twice on his troublesome hamstring.
He will face home hope Alex de Minaur for a place in the quarter-finals after the 22nd seed equalled his best result at the tournament by breezing past Frenchman Benjamin Bonzi 7-6 (7/0), 6-2, 6-1.
Djokovic’s win not only inched him nearer to equalling Rafael Nadal’s 22-Slam record but also to a 10th title, which would see him return to World number one for the first time since June.
Victory put him into the last 16 for a 15th time, equaling Nadal in second place on the Open-era list for appearances in the Australian Open fourth round behind Roger Federer’s 18.
“Every point, every game mattered,” he said. “I think the turning point for both players was right from the blocks, very first game making an early break for me was important.
“Obviously, I didn’t know how I’m going to feel physically, it was going up and down.
“It was an incredible battle, three sets over three hours. Let’s rest up and prepare for the next one.”
Djokovic aggravated his hamstring during his run to a 92nd title at the Adelaide International this month and has been struggling with it since.
He came into the match without his usual off-day practice session to give his leg as much time as possible to recover.
With his left thigh again heavily strapped, the Serb broke immediately and consolidated to take an early grip on the first set.
He was cruising but appeared to feel the injury when moving for a shot at 5-3. He managed to earn three set points, which were saved, but was then broken when serving for the set at 5-4.
Agitated, he complained to the umpire about being given a time violation and was then forced to save two set points before an epic tiebreak.
He eventually got over the line on his fifth set point, having saved another one from the Bulgarian 27th seed, after some intense tennis.
Djokovic took a medical timeout at the changeover and returned to dial up the pressure and take a break before comfortably seeing out the second set.
With Dimitrov flagging, he turned the screws further by breaking twice early in set three and, despite a mid-set wobble when the Bulgarian clawed back and then more treatment on his leg, he battled to the finish line.
De Minaur, who is gunning to make his first quarter-final at Melbourne Park, now awaits after having little trouble getting past Bonzi. The Australian said he was up for the challenge.
“These are the matches you want to be playing,” he said. “I’m gonna probably have the best in the World in front of me, and I’m ready for the battle.”
Fruhvirtova revels in ‘surreal’ Open
The youngest player in the women’s draw, the 17-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova, said it was “surreal” Saturday to reach the second week of the Australian Open at just her second Grand Slam.
The Czech teenager recovered from a break down in the third set against compatriot MarketaVondrousova to win 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 and reach the last 16 in Melbourne.
“It feels pretty surreal,” she told reporters.
“It’s an incredible feeling. I’m just so happy and excited to be able to say: ‘Hi second week!’
“I’m still 17. It’s my second main-draw appearance in a Grand Slam. I’m through to the second week, last 16, in such a big tournament,” said Fruhvirtova, who reached the second round of the US Open on her Grand Slam debut last year.
“I feel good and I’m excited to be playing the next match here.”
The teenager faces Donna Vekic of Croatia next.
Fruhvirtova and Vondrousova both suffered physically at the end of a gruelling afternoon encounter that lasted 2hr 17min.
Vondrousova had knocked out second seed Ons Jabeur in the previous round in an attritional match that did not finish till past 1am and she called a timeout for the trainer near the end.
Fruhvirtova, ranked 82 and four places higher than her opponent, needed no second invitation to pounce.
She went on a tear, winning 11 of 12 points to earn triple break points at 4-3.
Originally published at tribune.com.pk