MELBOURNE, February 12: Top seed Novak Djokovic survived a major injury scare as he battled past American Taylor Fritz 7-6(1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open on Friday.
Defending champion Djokovic, seeking a ninth title in Melbourne, looked in command when he took the opening two sets but began to suffer with a side injury early in the third set.
He needed to leave Rod Laver Arena to have treatment and was grimacing in pain at times as the 23-year-old Fritz took advantage to take the next two sets.
The crowd were removed midway through the fourth set as Melbourne’s new COVID-19 lockdown came into effect.
But Djokovic, despite still looking in discomfort, did enough to win the deciding set and live to fight another day.
Novak Djokovic unsure whether he will continue at Australian Open
“Right now I’m — well, I know it’s a tear, definitely, of the muscle,” Djokovic said of the issue on his right side and which he said left him unable to move or rotate initially.
“So I don’t know if I’ll manage to recover from that in less than two days. I don’t know I’m going to step out on to the court or not. I am just very proud of this achievement tonight. Let’s see what happens.”
Djokovic was helped by a break in play midway through the fourth set, at around 11.30pm local time, when the fans inside the Rod Laver Arena were told to leave to comply with Melbourne’s new five-day COVID-19 lockdown which was due to start at midnight.
Serena Williams overcame an error-strewn start Friday to thwart Anastasia Potapova and ensure her bid for history at the Australian Open continued.
The 23-time Grand Slam had 31 unforced errors but wore down the Russian 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 in 97 minutes on Rod Laver Arena to set up a fourth-round showdown with seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.
“Definitely good to be in the fourth round,” she said.
“I came out of the blocks not like I have been (before). But it’s all about surviving and playing better every round.”
The 10th seed had been in strong form so far in Melbourne as she chases Margaret Court’s record 24 Grand Slam tally, but was out-of-sorts in an error-strewn start to fall down a break.
But Potapova, 19, had a meltdown trying to serve out the first set with five double faults squandering the golden opportunity.
A refocused Williams then lifted her intensity and won a tiebreak before cruising through the second set.
Williams, the seven-time Australian Open champion, will on Sunday play Sabalenka who thrashed American Ann Li 6-3, 6-1, with a place in the quarter-finals at stake.
Sixth seed Alexander Zverev crushed Adrian Mannarino with little fuss Friday to coast into the Australian Open fourth round.
The German, a semi-finalist last year who is gunning for a maiden Grand Slam title, turned in an accomplished performance en route to a routine 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 win in just 1hr 43mins on Rod Laver Arena.
Zverev had reason to be confident, toppling the French 32nd seed three times in 2020 alone, including en route to the US Open final.
“I’m very happy. I played him three times last year and they were all long and difficult matches,” said the 23-year-old, who smashed 19 aces and 35 winners.
“Today, I decided that I’d hit the ball a bit harder.”
Zverev is looking to become the youngest Grand Slam singles champion since Novak Djokovic won the title at Melbourne Park in 2011.
He will next meet either Serbian 23rd seed Dusan Lajovic or Spain’s Pedro Martinez.
Naomi Osaka had to deal with a butterfly landing on her nose Friday but was otherwise little bothered as she breezed into the last 16 of the Australian Open and a showdown with last year’s runner-up Garbine Muguruza.
The third seed, champion in Melbourne two years ago, gently carried the insect intruder to safety at the side of the court before closing out an easy 6-3, 6-2 victory over Tunisian 27th seed Ons Jabeur in 1hr 18min.
Japan’s Osaka, who has dropped just 13 games in her opening three matches, is great friends with Jabeur and said playing against her on John Cain Arena was “really fun”.
“I was really nervous and scared because I didn’t know if she was gonna hit a drop shot on me, so I felt kind of rushed,” Osaka said.
She also thanked the fans for attending on the day it was announced that Melbourne would go into five days’ lockdown from midnight, meaning stands will be empty from Saturday.
“I hope that you guys enjoyed the match and thanks for coming out today.”
Australian Open organisers announced Friday that players would compete in a biosecure “bubble” after the host city was ordered into a snap five-day lockdown, with spectators banned.
Two-time Grand Slam winner Muguruza, who lost in the final to Sofia Kenin a year ago, earlier beat Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas 6-1, 6-1 in just 56 minutes to set up the fourth-round clash with Osaka.
Aggressive Halep rediscovers touch to stay in Australian Open
An aggressive Simona Halep revived her stuttering Australian Open campaign Friday with a straight-sets demolition of Veronika Kudermetova in an ominous statement.
The world number two served strongly and pierced the lines to overwhelm the 32nd seed 6-1, 6-3 in one hour and 18 minutes in the third round.
“It’s always tough to play an opponent for the first time and I thought my serve helped me today … I’ve improved on my serve a lot,” said Halep, who hit 21 winners and four aces.
Big-hitting Kudermetova loomed as a dangerous opponent, but it was Halep who blasted the Russian off the court in a much-needed confidence boost after she was pushed to the brink of elimination by local Alja Tomljanovic in the second round.
When Halep wasn’t hitting sizzling winners, she showcased her famed defensive prowess to rattle a misfiring Kudermetova, who was undone by 38 unforced errors.
Halep inexplicably struggled on serve early in the second set but answered every challenge in her best performance of the tournament.
Having survived a draining encounter with Tomljanovic on Wednesday, the two-time Grand Slam champion looked sharp and strong in a reminder of her credentials.
The Romanian’s seven-year streak in the top 10 is the longest active run among women and eighth all-time on the WTA.
Halep, 29, is seeking a maiden triumph at Melbourne Park having fallen short to Caroline Wozniacki in the 2018 decider and Garbine Muguruza in the semi-finals last year.
She could next face a blockbuster clash with French Open champion Iga Swiatek, who plays France’s Fiona Ferro in the third round.
Play halted at Australian Open as fans leave for lockdown
Play was suspended temporarily at the Australian Open on Friday as fans were told to leave the Rod Laver Arena to comply with a new five-day lockdown in Melbourne.
Top seed Novak Djokovic was two sets to one ahead, but struggling with an injury, against American Taylor Fritz when play was halted 11.30pm local time and fans were asked to leave.
The five-day lockdown, ordered after a new COVID-19 outbreak at a hotel, was due to start at midnight.
After a short delay while fans made their way to the exits, play resumed. (Agencies)