Novak Djokovic made it a lucky 13 at the Australian Open after his most clinical display at Melbourne Park this year.
Unfortunately for the home supporters, Alex de Minaur felt the wrath of the nine-time champion.
Djokovic moved into a 13th Melbourne Park quarterfinal with a 6-2 6-1 6-2 win in just over two hours at Rod Laver Arena on Monday night.
“Tennis is a very quick, dynamic sport,” Djokovic said on court afterward.
“Things can change in a matter of moments. So I kept my focus all the way through and played (my) best match of this year so far.”
Australians have faced the “Big Three” of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer over the years at the Australian Open, including De Minaur, Nick Kyrgios, Bernard Tomic and John Millman.
Some came close to engineering an upset – especially Millman against Federer three years ago – before ultimately falling short.
Would De Minaur buck the trend?
He lost to Nadal at Rod Laver Arena four years ago, but edged the 22-time Grand Slam winner at the United Cup in his native Sydney this month.
His mantra at this Australian Open has been, ‘Don’t worry, be happy’, even writing the name of the 1988 hit song on his red racquet bag.
De Minaur happily progressed to the last 16, dropping one set.
Djokovic continued to manage his hamstring injury, taking medical timeouts the previous two rounds.
De Minaur, however, wasn’t “reading too much” into the leg issue ahead of the pair’s first meeting.
“Ultimately he’s one of the best players in the world, and I’m just going to have to take it to him and not shy away from the occasion,” he said.
“I’m going to make sure to make it as tough as I can, and just bring the recent experience I’ve had on court and how I’ve been feeling.”
Story of the match
De Minaur’s mentor, Lleyton Hewitt, did top Nadal at Melbourne Park in 2005. He looked on Monday from his charge’s box, along with another Australian great, Tony Roche.
The opening rally, 17 shots, suggested an extended contest was on the way. That would not be unusual for De Minaur, well known for his speed and ability to defend.
Perhaps wary of such a possibility, Djokovic – the taping to his left hamstring in place once again – slammed a serve on the next point. Indeed, lengthy exchanges became the anomaly.
Djokovic pushed De Minaur in the fourth game, a sign of things to come. He broke for 4-2, part of a stretch where he tallied 10 straight points. He was barely conceding any points on serve, too.
Djokovic striking both forehands and backhands down the line proved a difference between the pair. And his glittering return is still there.
Djokovic fizzed a forehand return down the line to earn a break point at 3-0 in the second, and put even more force behind another forehand return at 4-0 in the third.
Meanwhile, De Minaur never held a break point.
Djokovic said he didn’t feel the injury, but wasn’t about to over-celebrate.
“I didn’t feel anything today. Today was great,” he said. “I keep on going. Obviously, I don’t want to celebrate too early. I’m still in the tournament.
“I was feeling very good in the first match. Second match not so great, so I know that things can change really quickly. I don’t take anything for granted.
“I’m really pleased with the way I played, moved, the way I hit the ball. Let’s keep it going.”
Djokovic struck 26 winners to De Minaur’s nine, and claimed 67 per cent of his second-serve points.
The emphatic win kept a “Big Three” streak going. Every year since the start of 2004, at least one has made the quarterfinals.
In 2003, note that Federer lost to David Nalbandian in the fourth round while a young Nadal and Djokovic didn’t play.
What this means for Djokovic
Djokovic faces a familiar foe next in Andrey Rublev, who beat Holger Rune in five sets earlier on Monday.
He owns a 2-0 record against the fifth seed on hard courts, but succumbed to the Russian at home in Belgrade on clay last April.
Rublev’s laser-like groundstrokes, when on, can trouble the best in the business.
What’s next for De Minaur?
Monday, obviously, was tough for the Australian.
But his victory over Nadal is sure to be a career highlight. It marked his second consecutive win over top-five opposition on his 19th and 20th attempts.
Wanting to reach the top 10 for the first time, De Minaur’s ranking is set to remain at No. 24 after the Australian Open.
Source: Ravi Ubha