Djokovic staggers on through Open drama | Ralph Lauren

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Novak Djokovic battled a side strain, the crowd and a plucky American, letting out a primal scream before moving through to the Australian Open fourth round in extraordinary circumstances.

Djokovic ultimately claimed a 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 3-6 4-6 6-2 win over Taylor Fritz but questions remain about the kind of shape he’s in to defend his title at Melbourne Park.

The world No.1 took a medical time out at 2-1 in the third set, struggling through two sets before hunkering down in the decider to set up a fourth-round match-up with Canadian Milos Raonic.

“This is definitely one of the most special wins of my life,” Djokovic said after the match, giving no guarantee about his status for his 14th round-of-16 match at Melbourne Park.

A Djokovic departure loomed as another huge blow for the Open after crowds were pulled until at least Thursday with Victoria going into COVID-19 lockdown for five days.

Amid remarkable scenes, the spectators, who seemed to spend much of the evening baiting Djokovic, were directed to leave at 11.30pm in line with the edict to be home by midnight.

Djokovic’s problems arose early in the third set, his treatment seemingly doing little to help his complaint.

Groaning on occasion when serving, his lateral movement also appeared affected and the heat seemingly went out of his game.

No.27 seed Fritz, who’d already been in the match up to his eyeballs, pounced to take a break in the third and went on to claim the set.

He picked up another midway through the fourth to take things to a decider only for Djokovic to get a second wind, claiming two of his own to steal the match.

Friday’s match had already been filled with drama seemingly everywhere else but the scoreboard.

Down 2-5 in the first set, Fritz started to find his range and broke Djokovic to work his way back into the contest.

It prompted a furious tirade at the change of ends from Djokovic, apparently directed at his box.

The free-swinging Fritz held twice more to force a tiebreak but then the true 17-time grand slam champion emerged, Djokovic winning six points on the hop to take the set.

The second followed a similar pattern – minus Fritz’s frustrating inability to break when often looking on top – while Djokovic appeared to mock someone in the crowd at the conclusion of the set after constant niggling.

But it was just a precursor to the real drama as Djokovic dug deep to keep his prospects of a ninth title in Melbourne alive.


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