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Djokovic: “It always starts well, and then it gets worse”

Novak Djokovic keeps fighting and believing that he can go all the way in Melbourne despite the injury.

Novak Djokovic Tennis – Australian Open – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia – January 18, 2023 Serbia’s Novak Djokovic reacts during his first round match against Spain’s Roberto Carballes Baena (AI/Reuters/Panoramic)

There’s no way around it and no way to hide it: Novak Djokovic is in a reboot of his 2019 Australian Open adventure. Hoping to be able to repeat the performance, despite fearing that one can’t get away with it twice. Winning with an abdominal tear? Checked. Winning with a hamstring tear? Still trying. After his third-round win against Grigor Dimitrov, in three sets but also three hours, the question was still the same: how long can he keep going like this?

“Well, it kind of always starts well in the last few matches, including this one, and then some movement happens, and then it gets worse”, Djokovic acknowledged. “Pills kick in, and some hot cream and stuff. That works for a little bit, then it doesn’t, then works again. It’s really a roller coaster. It requires a lot of energy that is being spent from my side mentally and physically, as well, to deal with the match with my opponent and also with the not ideal physical state. But it is what it is. It’s kind of a circumstance 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.”

Watching that match, everyone was surely having the same thought during that marathon of a first-set thriller: if the Djoker doesn’t win that one, it’s game over. The Serb wasn’t being as dramatic, yet he still admitted that winning that set was crucial. “That probably was one of the most important moments in the match. To prevail in the tiebreak and get ahead, a set ahead. Obviously being a set down or a set up is a big difference. I think mentally as well as physically. Yeah, very close first set. I think I started the match really well, feeling good. Kind of went up and down feeling physically with my leg. Just found a way, I guess, to win in such an exciting match, a big battle, over three hours for three sets. If I lost one of these sets, we could have gone really the distance.”

It’s not a compliment to the rest of the field that Djokovic really thinks he has a shot at winning a Grand Slam title on one leg. Well, it’s quite a bit of a disaster for the rest of the field that he’s still reaching the second week on one leg without being scared, at a single moment, about the strength of his rivals. It also says a lot about how confident he feels in Melbourne, especially at the Rod Laver Arena. So there’s nothing and nobody he felt he had reasons to withdraw for.

“I did not want to pull out for the tournament because I wanted to see how it’s going to feel on the court. So the first match was good. In the second match, I struggled a lot. I had a couple of moments where it was really bad. Today, as well. 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.” And the best, in Oz, is usually himself.

Yet, his next opponent Alex De Minaur should prove a rough one. He’s young and fearless, he has an incredible fighting spirit and he can run for days. Not exactly ideal for a player with a leg injury. Djokovic will also have the crowd against him because he’s facing an Australian. “Of course, it’s a big challenge of playing an Aussie guy here in front of his home crowd. I’m sure that the atmosphere will be electric, and he’s going to have a lot of support, and be pumped to try to win. But I’ve had experiences before: I played Lleyton Hewitt here, and I played some big Aussie players, so I know how that feels. The fact that I never faced him is also challenging. We don’t know much about each other’s games, but still, he’s been around for quite a few years so I’ve watched him play numerous times. I know how he plays. Let’s see what happens.” Even on one leg, Djokovic believes the stars will keep aligning.

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