Novak Djokovic wasn’t even sure he would be able to step on the court for his fourth-round match at the Australian Open against Milos Raonic after injuring a right oblique muscle in the previous round.
In fact, Djokovic said he had suffered a “tear” during his third-round, five-set win over American Taylor Fritz. Several hours before the Raonic match, Djokovic practiced to see if he would be fit to take the court.
The 33-year-old world No. 1 ultimately prevailed over No. 14 Raonic, 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 to advance to a quarterfinal meeting with No. 6 Sascha Zverev. Djokovic is 5-2 against Zverev, including a three-set win this year in the ATP Cup in Melbourne.
Djokovic improved to 300-45 in major matches, joining Roger Federer in the 300-match win club. Federer, who will return next month in Doha after missing a year due to two knee procedures, is 362-59 in majors.
“I had no preparation for this match,” said Djokovic. “I used every hour I had to recover since the Taylor [Fritz] match. My physio and those of the ATP and Australian Open gave me their best support to get on the court. I have definitely been fitter in the past and I will continue to take each day one at a time.”
An eight-time Australian Open winner and the two-time defending champion, Djokovic remains alive for his 18th career Grand Slam title.
No. 3 seed Dominic Thiem is out of Djokovic’s half of the draw after losing to No. 18 Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, 6-0. Thiem, the reigning U.S. Open champion, was coming off a five-set win over Australian Nick Kyrgios.
“I think a combination of [a few] things, some little physical issues, plus a real bad day, plus the fact that he’s a great player,” said Thiem. “If he’s on, he’s super tough to play, especially in faster conditions than now, and I really wish that he can make a great breakthrough at a Grand Slam. He would definitely deserve it.”
The 29-year-old Dimitrov hit 25 winners, including 10 aces, while Thiem committed 41 unforced errors and won just nine of 28 points on his second serve.
Dimitrov will face qualifier Aslan Karatsev of Russia, who dispatched No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada in five sets to become the third qualifier to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals.
“It was really tough in the beginning to play with him,” Karatsev said in his on-court interview. “He’s a really good player and he’s playing really fast. It took me two sets to find a way how to play.”
Djokovic, meantime, looked fit enough to survive 26 aces from Raonic and improved to 12-0 against the Canadian.
Despite the injury, he remains the favorite to at least come out of the top half. No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal and No. 4 Daniil Medvedev loom on the bottom half of the draw, with both set to play their fourth-round matches today.
As for facing Zverev next, Djokovic said: “Sascha is one of the top men’s players in the past five years. He has won the [Nitto] ATP Finals title and is an established Top 10 player. He has the weapons, a big serve and moves well for his height. We played an exhausting match at the ATP Cup recently and I won’t expect anything less when we meet in the quarterfinals.”