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Djokovic survives injury scare to fight another day


Serb Novak Djokovic survived a major injury scare as he battled past American Taylor Fritz to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates after winning against Taylor Fritz of the US during their men’s singles match on day five of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Friday. Picture: Brandon Malone, AFP

MELBOURNE – 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.

The eight-time champion looked in serious trouble when an injury sustained to his right side at 1-1 in the third set, having built a two-set lead, left him grimacing in pain and requiring treatment off court.

Fritz, the 27th seed, took the third set and was leading in the fourth when the match had another strange twist as play was halted while the crowd were removed in line with a new five-day Covid-19 lockdown starting at midnight in Melbourne.

When play resumed in virtual silence on Rod Laver Arena after the boisterous atmosphere that had riled Djokovic earlier, Fritz went on to level the match.

But the stoppage appeared to help Djokovic who, despite still struggling at times, dominated the fifth set, reeling off the last four games with his trademark baseline accuracy.

The Serb roared into the night sky like a man possessed after claiming his 78th, and possibly strangest, match win at the tournament he has dominated in the past decade.

Whether or not he can continue is a major doubt though as he only has a two-day window to recover from what he described as a tear before facing Milos Raonic on Sunday.

“I don’t have a great experience with tears in terms of continuing so it’s in the clouds whether I step out on the court in two days, hopefully God willing I can play,” 17-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic said shortly after walking off court.

“The way it felt when I got the first medical timeout I was debating in my head whether to retire from the match because I couldn’t move, I couldn’t rotate, return serve, the only thing I could do was serve which got me out of trouble.”

Until the moment he suffered the injury Djokovic’s main problem had been the crowd, who offered raucous backing to Fritz.

Djokovic lost focus when serving at 5-3 in the first set, showing his irritation with the fans, but he regained his composure to play an exquisite tiebreak.

He then took the second set in routine fashion before everything started to spiral out of his control.

“I’m proud but a bit worried as I don’t know what’s going on. I think it’s a tear. I had a kind of weird feeling on one of the returns and I knew right away that something not great was happening and that was confirmed by the ATP physio,” he said.

“Mentally and emotionally I feel great, it’s a huge relief to pull this one through in the conditions that I find myself in. It was one of a kind and one of the best moments of my career in this kind of circumstances.”