Djokovic ‘very glad to get through’ after Simon takes world No 1 to five sets

“He’s a counter-puncher, probably one of the best if not the best on tour ...," says world No 1 after overcoming Frenchman Gilles Simon 6-3, 6-7, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, while Tomas Berdych outlasted Roberto Bautista Agut in five tough sets to reach the last eight at Melbourne Park for a sixth straight year.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia gestures during fourth round match against Giles Simon of France at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 24 January 2016. Made Nagi / EPA
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MELBOURNE // Champion Novak Djokovic put down the threat of a French revolution at Melbourne Park by fending off Gilles Simon 6-3, 6-7, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open on Sunday.

Having hurtled into the match without dropping a set, Djokovic found a brick wall in the form of the 14th seed Simon whose dogged scrambling frustrated the Serb for much of the four-hour, 32-minute clash at Rod Laver Arena.

The world No 1 racked up a most un-Djokovic-like total of 100 unforced errors and brought the fifth set largely upon himself with a string of botched drop-shots.

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But the Serb’s iron-willed composure returned quickly in the decider as he broke Simon early and motored to a 5-1 lead.

Simon rallied with a final flourish, regaining a service break and saved two match points before holding to raise thunderous cheers from a raucous crowd firmly in his corner.

But after raising a third match point with an ace, Djokovic sealed the match with an imperious backhand down the line and after shaking hands with his opponent, was glad to slump into his chair.

“Playing against a player like Gilles you can expect a lot of rallies, he’s always making you play an extra shot,” the Serb said.

“He was fighting, he was playing well, it was physically very demanding and I’m just very glad to get through this one.

“He’s a counter-puncher, probably one of the best if not the best on tour ... credit and congratulations to him for a great fight and I wish him all the best.”

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Djokovic, who booked his 27th successive quarter-final at the grand slams, will now meet seventh seeded Japanese Kei Nishikori, the man who beat him in the 2014 US Open semi-finals.

“We’ve played many times in the big tournaments. I lost to him in the semi-finals of the US Open so I hope I’ll be able to decrease my unforced error stat ... and do my best in that one.”

World No 6 Tomas Berdych outlasted Roberto Bautista Agut in five tough sets on Sunday to set up an Australian Open quarter-final against either Roger Federer or David Goffin.

The Czech Republic’s Berdych finally put away the Spaniard 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 in three hours, 18 minutes to reach the last eight at Melbourne Park for a sixth straight year.

Berdych has been a semi-finalist for the last two years in Melbourne and the Australian Open has proved the Czech’s most successful grand slam based on match wins, now standing at 38-12.

It was Berdych’s fourth win in six meetings with Bautista Agut, who upset former US Open champion and 12th seed Marin Cilic to reach the round of 16.

It was a battle for Berdych on Margaret Court Arena having his service broken four times, but he also broke the Spaniard’s serve four times off a total of 22 break points.

The Czech hit a total of 66 winners, 28 of them off his signature forehand along with 18 aces, and dominated the battle at the net.

Berdych took his career five-set record to 18-8 as he gears for a possible tilt at Federer after losing to Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka in semi-finals in the last two years.

“I always try to prepare the best I can and try to play well and the results are the proof and I am going to try to do the same for the rest of the tournament,” Berdych said.

“I think this is my best base start to the year. It’s a good one so far, I’ve got past the first week and now all the focus is on the second week.”

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