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Injured but indomitable, Djokovic advances to last 16 to face de Minaur

Novak Djokovic beat Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (7), 6-3, 6-4 on Saturday and will face Australian Alex De Minaur, the No 22 seed, in the next round

Novak Djokovic, Australian Open 2023 Novak Djokovic, Australian Open 2023 – © AI / Reuters / Panoramic
Australian Open •Third round • completed
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Novak Djokovic is really going to try to win this Australian Open on one leg. It sounds crazy, it sounds totally unreasonable and it mostly sounds impossible. Well, it’s Djokovic in Melbourne so… On Saturday, the Serb qualified for the fourth round, for the 15th time here and the 59th time in Grand Slam, after quite an incredible display of willpower against Grigor Dimitrov, the No 27 seed (7-6 (7), 6-3, 6-4). He now leads 10-1 in their battles, and hasn’t lost against Dimitrov since Madrid in…2013!

Surely, it’s also this mental edge that explains the scenario of their third round: the unwavering confidence of Djokovic and the shaky hands on the big points of Dimitrov. It remains to be seen how long can the Djoker go, especially as he will face the Australian Alex De Minaur, whose game is all legs, next. Will the streak of his 24 consecutive matches won in Melbourne be broken?

But on Saturday, “Nole” willed his way through the win in an impressive fashion, so impressive that it totally got into Dimitrov’s brain. Until 5-3 in the first set, it was business as usual for Djokovic who was looking rather good and so was dominating Dimitrov from the baseline thanks to, as often, the huge pace he puts his opponents under. But from then on, it all started to derail and Djokovic found himself down 5-6 with two set points to save despite being up 5-3 and three set points on his rival’s serve some minutes ago. The Leg had come into play. And the man with 21 Grand Slam titles, 10 in Melbourne, had suddenly lost a good third of his speed.

He needed a short match, and he was going to have it in the end, but through this end of the first set, everybody was again wondering if he was going to be able to finish the match at all. Up 5-2 in the tie-break, he saw Dimitrov come back to 5-5. Then a fourth set point went away. Then he had to save one. And then the rollercoaster was finally over. It all took 1h19! And when the trainer came on court and worked on The Leg, it really didn’t look good for Djokovic despite clinching that set. And yet, he basically cruised until 4-1 third set, two points for 5-1. What had happened? A display of “if you can’t run, then make them run” tennis.

Djokovic won’t outrun anyone in Melbourne this year but the former World No.1 is reminding everybody again that, when he needs to and when he has to, he’s one of the greatest shotmakers out there. Feet on the line, dictating, he even found a way to stop a surging Dimitrov from coming back again in a set (5-4). The feeling was always that if Dimitrov could cut on the errors and really get going and pressuring, then Djokovic would have issues. But the boss of the Rod Laver Arena killed each and every hope of his rival.

It’s surgical, it’s depending on being bold on the biggest points but for now, it’s working. Could it make him clinch that 22nd Mahor title? Tough to believe, but with each miraculous win here, his confidence grows as much as his rivals’ fear does. Who needs footwork? Well, everyone in tennis except Novak Djokovic it seems!

Melbourne (Grand Slam), other third-round results (Melbourne Park, hard, USD 24.297.942, most recent results first):

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