By: Gyang Dakwo
A far from fit Novak Djokovic, hampered by a hamstring problem that threatens his quest for a 10th Australian Open crown and 22nd Grand Slam, soldiered on into round four on Saturday after a scintillating 7-6(7) 6-3 6-4 victory over Grigor Dimitrov.
Djokovic had his left thigh looked at by the trainer after a tight opening set where he was pushed to the limit and, though he came through the next comfortably and his movement improved, the groans grew louder with every point in the third.
“I didn’t know how I was going to feel physically, I was kind of going up and down,” said Djokovic, who staved off a late comeback attempt by Dimitrov to prevail and is now the only remaining Grand Slam champion in a depleted men’s draw.
“I thought the double break in the third was going to be enough for me, but he was locked in from that moment and up to the last shot I did not know if I was going to prevail or not. It was an incredible battle — three sets over three hours.”
Dimitrov’s late surge as he searched in vain for only a second win over Djokovic in their 11th meeting will have left the Serbian wondering how much longer his injured hamstring will hold up as he prepares to take on 23-year-old Alex de Minaur.
Asked about younger rivals fourth seed Djokovic said: “What do you mean the young ones? Thirty five is the new 25, you know? Look at Rafa (Nadal), look at Andy Murray they’re all playing at an extremely high level.”