MELBOURNE – Novak Djokovic wore tape above his right hip, and winced when he stretched for some shots in a three-hour match against Milos Raonic that will go into the records as his 300th win at a major.
For anyone curious about the severity of his injury, he put it into context after qualifying for the Australian Open quarterfinals for the 12th time.
“If it’s any other tournament than a Grand Slam then I would retire, withdraw from the event, that’s for sure,” Djokovic said in an on-court TV interview Sunday following his 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 fourth-round victory. “When it warmed up it was fine. During the match it was kind of on and off."
The eight-time Australian Open champion planned to spend most of the next two days recovering ahead of his quarterfinal against sixth-seeded Alexander Zverev.
That's pretty much how he spent his time after injuring an abdominal muscle in his five-set, third-round win over Taylor Fritz.
A lot of recovery, a lot of time getting physiotherapy and, he said, “different treatments with different devices. You know, just pills, painkillers and stuff like this with the medical team ... that definitely helped a lot."
He didn't practice on Saturday — he said he didn't hit a ball — and didn't know until he was warming up three hours before his match against Raonic whether or not he'd be fit enough to play Sunday's late match on Rod Laver Arena.
In the end, he looked OK as he extended his career streak to 12-0 against the big-serving Canadian. He dropped his racket and hurdled an advertising hoarding in the first set, and later watched on as 14th-seeded Raonic had his right ankle re-taped during a medical time out in the second.
His movement wasn't peak Djokovic, but it was good enough to produce 41 winners and drop only one of his 20 service games. His career win-loss record in the four tennis majors is now 300-45, making him the only man other than Roger Federer (362-59) to compile 300 wins.
“I won the match against a great player," Djokovic said, “and hopefully it’s going to be even better in two days.”
U.S. Open finalist Zverev beat No. 23-seeded Dusan Lajovic 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-3 to move into the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park in back-to-back years.
The projected quarterfinal in that top section of the draw panned out according to the seedings.
This other quarterfinal match in that half of the draw is one that nobody saw coming.
With a straight-sets win over third-seeded Dominic Thiem, the U.S. Open champion and Australian Open runner-up in 2020, Grigor Dimitrov advanced to a showdown with Aslan Karatsev.
Yes, that Karatsev — the Russian ranked No. 114 who is playing in his first Grand Slam tournament. Dimitrov beating Thiem isn't exactly an upset.
The 29-year-old Bulgarian has been ranked as high as No. 3, won the ATP Finals, and already led his friend, Thiem, 3-2 in career head-to-heads, although this was their first meeting at a major.
Despite his lengthy tennis pedigree, Dimitrov has never been past the semifinals at a Grand Slam. So he's wary of somebody like Karatsev.
“If you’re here, it’s for a reason - there’s no doubt about it,” Dimitrov said after his 6-4, 6-4, 6-0 win. “Whether it’s a fairytale or not, it’s a match — you’ve got to be ready.”
Karatsev earlier added a win over No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime, coming back for a 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 victory, to an earlier upset over No. 8 Diego Schwartzman.
He'd failed in nine previous bids to qualify for a Grand Slam tournament, but finally succeeded in Doha last month, when qualifying for the Australian Open was held offshore for the first time because of restrictions in place for the COVID-19 pandemic.
He's now just the third qualifier to get this far in Australia in the professional era, the first since Goran Ivanisevic in 1989. The last man to get to the round of eight in his first Grand Slam appearance was Alex Radulescu at Wimbledon in 1996.
And not since Patrick McEnroe — John’s brother — in 1991 has a man ranked as low as 114th made it to the Australian Open quarterfinals.
“I was working a lot, and it just happened right now,” the 27-year-old Karatsev said of his recent streak.
“It’s like you never know when it happens. It just happened here.”
Thiem said he had a few issues on Sunday, but didn't want to elaborate or use them as excuses.
It was clear that he was still fatigued after having to come from two sets down to beat Australia's Nick Kyrgios in five sets on Friday night.
“Some little physical issues, plus a real bad day, plus the fact that, well, he’s a great player," Thiem said. “So a combination of those three things, and a result like that can happen."
“The thing also is that I’m also not a machine," he added. “I mean, sometimes I would like to be, but there are really, really bad days.”
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