Two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic has overcome several moments of frustration to win a tense Australian Open quarter-final against Alexander Zverev in four sets on Rod Laver Arena.
- Djokovic lost the first set but went on to win 6-7 (6/8), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (8/6)
- The world number one has struggled with injury during the tournament
- He will play Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev in the semi-finals
Djokovic smashed a racquet at one stage but managed to control his temper on his way to completing a 6-7 (6/8), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (8/6) triumph over the sixth-seeded Zverev in a match that finished well beyond midnight at Melbourne Park.
The world number one, who had struggled with an abdominal injury in his previous two matches, will play Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev in the semi-finals.
Karatsev became the first male qualifier in the Open era to reach the last four at a major following his 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 win over an injury-hit Grigor Dimitrov earlier on Tuesday.
Djokovic’s injury has been a talking point at Melbourne Park in recent days, with several high-profile figures in the tennis world casting doubt about the severity of his ailment.
He wore tape on his abdomen against Zverev, but it was his emotional level that may have been of more concern to his supporters, as he appeared flat and agitated at times during the match, which lasted three hours and 30 minutes.
Djokovic, who is aiming for a staggering ninth Australian Open title, said it had been difficult managing his injury but he was confident it would not be an issue in his semi-final against Karatsev.
“I’ve been doing various things to try to put myself in a condition to play,” he said in his on-court interview.
“I haven’t been practicing in the days off. I am going to keep doing the same and hopefully the result will be in the end the same like it was today.”
Djokovic admitted he had not seen Karatsev play prior to the Australian Open but was impressed by his performances so far in the tournament.
“He serves well and he’s motivated,” he said.
“Obviously he has has nothing to lose.”
With the roof open on Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic and Zverev played amid the noise of seagulls instead of spectators inside an almost empty stadium as Victoria continued with its five-day lockdown.
The German, a semi-finalist in Melbourne last year and runner-up at the US Open, gained the upper hand immediately when he broke Djokovic’s serve in the opening game of the match.
He later had a set point on Djokovic’s serve in a lengthy ninth game, but the Serb held to trail 4-5.
In the following game, as Zverev served for the set, Djokovic was bent over at the hips at one stage, looking as if he was experiencing both physical and emotional distress.
But his spirits seemed to lift when he broke his opponent ahead of the set being decided by a tie break.
An ace at 5-5 in the breaker handed Zverev a set point, which was saved by Djokovic, and he enjoyed another at 7-6 when he gained a mini break of serve. He converted to take the first set after an hour on court.
Djokovic removed some of his taping at the change of ends as he reflected on the first set, in which he tallied 21 unforced errors.
Whatever his thought process was at that time, it had a positive effect. He began the second set by winning the first point with a crisp forehand, before going on to break Zverev’s serve.
Djokovic then served to love and broke Zverev for the second time in the set to race to a 3-0 lead.
Having looked glum and downcast during the opening set, Djokovic’s facial expressions noticeably changed as the momentum swung in his favour. He went 4-0 up when he won his next service game, before Zverev held to finally get on the board in the second set.
Djokovic’s rhythm was not interrupted though, and he proceeded to take out the second set with relative ease in 29 minutes, icing it with his 11th ace of the match.
His performance in the second set was a stark contrast to the first, as he only committed two unforced errors and did not serve a double fault.
Djokovic goes two sets up
Djokovic briefly left the court ahead of the third set and not long after returning, he found himself on the back foot in much the same way as he was early in the match.
He handed over a break with a double fault in the second game and failed to lay a glove on the Zverev serve in the third.
After holding serve to trail 1-3, Djokovic bizarrely sat down at the end of the court between games. Once play resumed, he seemed to have composed himself enough as he was able to gain a break point but his frustrations boiled over in the same game.
He smashed his racquet three times behind the baseline after sending a service return into the net and needed to go to his chair to grab a replacement.
Zverev eventually won the game but play was halted as a ball kid was required to sweep up fragments of Djokovic’s racquet that remained on the court.
The third set soon turned on its head, as Djokovic secured a double break en route to serving for the set at 5-4. He made no mistake and let out a mighty roar towards his player box, as he established a two-sets-to-one lead.
The fourth set was another arm wrestle, with Djokovic and Zverev trading service breaks.
A tie break ensued and it was Djokovic who prevailed, finishing the match with an ace, his 23rd of the evening.