Sun, 29 Jan 2023

The Serb again struggled with a hamstring complaint but got the job done against Grigor Dimitrov

Novak Djokovic's pursuit of a record-extending tenth Australian Open title continues after he defeated Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov in their third-round match in Melbourne on Saturday.

Despite a lingering hamstring injury which has hindered him throughout the tournament, Djokovic earned a 7-6 (9-7) 6-3 6-4 victory at Rod Laver Arena to set up a fourth-round match against Australia's Alex de Minaur on Monday.

Djokovic, seeded fourth this year in Melbourne, was forced to take a medical timeout after a grueling first set against Dimitrov in which he saved three set points before prevailing in the tiebreak. Djokovic, whose upper left leg was heavily strapped, required treatment again in the third set but by that stage was well in control against the number 27 seed.

"It was an incredible battle. Three sets, over three hours. Let's rest up and prepare for the next one," Djokovic said in his post-match interview. When asked how he continues to produce relentless energy levels on court, Djokovic made light of his age, telling interviewer Jelena Dokic that "35 is the new 25."

Remarkably, the Serb is now unbeaten in his last 24 matches at the Australian Open - a tournament he has won a record nine times. The last time Djokovic was defeated on Australian soil was back in 2018, when he lost in the fourth round in Melbourne against South Korea's Chung Hyeon.

Djokovic has returned to the tournament this year after his infamous deportation from Australia in a row over his Covid vaccine status on the eve of the event in 2022. The Serb has been warmly welcomed by the crowds at Melbourne Park as he chases a 22nd Grand Slam title, which would draw him level with Rafael Nadal in the all-time list.

Nadal, 36, has already exited this year's Australian Open after his injury-affected loss to America's Mackenzie McDonald in the second round. Russia's Daniil Medvedev - a finalist in the past two years in Melbourne - also endured an early departure after a shock loss to US rival Sebastian Korda on Friday.

The highest-seeded player remaining in the men's draw is third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who plays his fourth-round match against Italy's Jannik Sinner on Sunday. Russian fifth seed Andrey Rublev is also still in contention, and faces Danish number nine seed Holger Rune in the fourth round on Monday.

READ MORE: Russian number one marches on at Australian Open

But should Djokovic manage to defy his lingering injury struggles, he will surely be fancied as the favorite for the title considering his incredible track record in the opening Grand Slam of the season.  

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