Novak Djokovic fired a warning shot to the other Australian Open title contenders with a straight-sets win over Grigor Dimitrov in their third-round match on Saturday, despite struggling with a hamstring injury.
The Serbian continued his bid for a 10th Australian Open title with a 7-6(7), 6-3, 6-4 victory over the Bulgarian, although fears about his fitness continued to grow.
Djokovic is eyeing a 22nd Grand Slam title to match Rafael Nadal, but was not at his mobile best during the first set in particular, whilst struggling with an injury to his left hamstring.
He began with a break in the topsy-turvy opening set and had three set points with the score at 5-3. However, Dimitrov fought back to force a tiebreak, which Djokovic won in thrilling fashion.
Djokovic took a medical time-out and returned somewhat rejuvenated, albeit with a heavily strapped leg, and wrapped up the second set after breaking in the sixth game.
Whilst the long-time world number one was clearly below his best, he grew in stature as the game progressed and ultimately the fourth seed wrapped up the third set with a double break.
The error-prone Dimitrov got one of the breaks back, but it was too little late and Djokovic advanced to the last 16.
“Every point, every game mattered,” Djokovic said after the match.
“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.”
Djokovic first aggravated his hamstring en route to winning his 92nd career title at the Adelaide International earlier this month and has been struggling with it ever since.
He gave his leg as much time as possible to recover by skipping his normal training sessions on the day before the match.
In the next round, Djokovic will face Australian Alex de Minaur.
Local favourite De Minaur defeated Benjamin Bonzi 7-6, (7-0) 6-2, 6-1 to book his place in the fourth round to set up a mouthwatering clash for the home fans.
“I hope everyone that was on this court right now is going to go and support Alexei Popyrin,” De Minaur said after the match.
“That’s all we do. Us Aussies, we stick together. We’ve got a bright future ahead and let’s get ‘Popeye’ to the line today.”
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