Djokovic storms into Australian Open fourth round despite hamstring issues

Serbian defeats Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets on Saturday

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Novak Djokovic did not let a troublesome hamstring disrupt his Australian Open charge as he reached the fourth round with a clinical 7-6(7), 6-3, 6-4 victory over Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov on Saturday.

The Serbian, who is eyeing a 22nd major and 10th Australian title, looked uncertain in his movement due to an injured left hamstring during a roller-coaster opening set where he began with a break, squandered three set points at 5-3 and dropped serve late on before edging a tiebreak.

Djokovic, who was heavily strapped, emerged from a medical timeout and built pressure with his relentless returns from the back, going up 4-2 as 27th seed Dimitrov hit the net to surrender his serve, and went on to wrap up the second set.

A struggling Djokovic looked a little more certain of his movement in the third set and a double break to start helped him subdue the error-prone Dimitrov.

It was only two years ago that Djokovic tore an abdominal muscle during the tournament yet still managed to win a ninth title, and none of his rivals will be expecting him to give up the chance of a 10th without a proper fight.

The Bulgarian at times threatened to make things complicated for Djokovic but, despite going down on the court twice more, he found a way through to set up a clash with Australia's Alex De Minaur.

Looking ahead to facing de Minaur in front of what is sure to be a crowd filled with other Australians, Djokovic told the Rod Laver Arena spectators: “I don’t know how many of you will be on my side. I don’t think too many.”

Victory put him into the last 16 for a 15th time, equalling Rafael 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."

Updated: January 21, 2023, 12:03 PM
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