Novak Djokovic masterclass sends out ominous warning to Australian Open rivals

Nine-time champion thrashes De Minaur 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 to reach the quarter-finals

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When Novak Djokovic is in this sort of mood, it often seems like the only obstacle in his way is himself.

There was the bizarre default and disqualification at the US Open in 2020 when he accidentally struck a line judge in the throat with an errant ball; and the controversial deportation from Melbourne 12 months ago which denied him the opportunity to defend his Australian Open title.

Now? Well, a heavily-strapped thigh for a hamstring injury Djokovic deemed only “God and the physio” could help him with seems to be the biggest barrier between the Serb and what looks like an increasingly inevitable 10th title at Melbourne Park.

Because, if the fourth seed produces another performance anywhere close to the one he inflicted on Alex De Minaur in the fourth round on Monday, then the rest of the field may as well pack their racquets and move on to the next tournament.

Ominously, Djokovic said the hamstring problem that had been serious enough for him to contemplate withdrawing last week had subsided. “Tonight it wasn't obvious that I was dealing with an injury,” he said. “I didn't feel anything today, so today was great.”

That's not what the other seven remaining players wanted to hear, and if any of them tuned in to watch the evening match inside Rod Laver Arena on Monday, then Djokovic's devastating display was most certainly not what they would have wanted to see.

In front of a typically boisterous capacity crowd roaring on one of their own, Djokovic wasted no time in asserting his dominance, pulling De Minaur all over the court and making the Australian scramble from the get-go. The Australian world No 24 hung in there for the first four games but once Djokovic broke, it felt all but over.

So it proved as after just over two hours, Djokovic wrapped up a 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 victory that was every bit as one-sided as the score suggests, and after a near-perfect performance, the only visual evidence of an injury was the white bandage underneath his shorts.

“I thank my medical team, physio, God – anybody that really helped me. I keep on going,” said Djokovic, who extended his win streak in Melbourne to 25 matches, only one behind Andre Agassi's record.

“I was feeling very good in the first match [in Melbourne], in the second match not so great, so I know things can change really quickly and I don't take things for granted.

“But I'm really pleased with the way I played today, the way I moved, the way I hit the ball. I played the best match of this year so far.”

Djokovic, 35, will now compete in his 54th Grand Slam quarter-final – second only to Roger Federer's 58 – where he will take on fifth seed Andrey Rublev after the Russian came through a titanic five-set tussle with rising star Holger Rune.

It will also be his 13th quarter-final at the Australian Open, placing him fourth on the all-time list behind Federer, Rafael Nadal and John Newcombe.

After being on the receiving end of a masterclass, De Minaur was left in no doubt about the destination of the Norman Brooks Challenge Cup.

“I came up against a very good opponent with a very high level today,” he said. “What I experienced today was probably Novak very close to his best, I would say. To me, if that's the level, he's definitely the guy that's going to take the title.”

In Monday's other quarter-finals, American Ben Shelton continued his dream run at his first major by defeating compatriot JJ Wolf 6-7, 6-2, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, while Tommy Paul became the third player from the United States through to the last eight with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 win over Spanish 24th seed Roberto Bautista Agut.

Tuesday's quarter-final matches see Russian 18th seed Karen Khachanov take on American 29th seed Sebastian Korda, before Greek third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas continues his bid for a maiden Grand Slam title against the Czech Republic's Jiri Lehecka.

Updated: January 23, 2023, 12:26 PM
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