Novak Djokovic had his aching thigh kneaded and winced, but once again defied all resistance. The tennis star from Serbia took the next step on the way to his 22nd Grand Slam triumph at the Australian Open. The 35-year-old ultimately lived up to his role as favorite against Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov and won 7: 6 (9: 7), 6: 3, 6: 4.
Marathon man Andy Murray was eliminated. The three-time Grand Slam winner from Scotland lost to the Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut 1: 6, 7: 6 (9: 7), 3: 6, 4: 6. Murray had won the third round duel with a five-set victory over 5:45 hours and was on the court until after four in the morning. This sparked discussions about late seasons at Grand Slams.
“My legs were actually okay,” said Murray. “But I had problems with my lower back. That had an impact on my serve.” He continues to be motivated to attack: “I can achieve more than the third round of a slam, no question.”
Djokovic expressed his gratitude to continue and addressed his problems. “Physically it was up and down,” he said. “The pills work intermittently, heat cream and stuff like that. It works for a while, then not anymore, later again.” It was “really a roller coaster ride”. Every season counts for him at the advanced professional age.
It’s in God’s hands
The physical condition of the nine-time Melbourne winner continues to raise questions. He has been struggling with the persistent injury on the back of his thigh since the start of the tournament, but giving up is not an option for the exceptional athlete from Belgrade. He wants to make history and, after winning major titles, draw level with the injured Grand Slam record champion Rafael Nadal.
Against Dimitrov he asked for medical treatment after the tight first set and also in the third round, shortly before the end the title favorite also fell to the ground after a rally. “To be honest, it’s not good at all,” Djokovic said after his second round win. Ultimately it is in God’s hands. Djokovic’s next opponent is Australian Alex de Minaur.
Barbara Rittner, head of German women’s tennis and TV expert at Eurosport, criticized Djokovic’s sometimes theatrical behavior. “What always bothers me a bit: He runs straight to the ball and then he hobbles – as if he wants to demonstrate: Hey guys, I’ve got something there. That annoys me a bit,” said Rittner: “But it’s very clear that he has something, and the big question is whether he can play like that.”