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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, February 12, 2021


A gutsy Novak Djokovic survived a torn abdominal muscle and Taylor Fritz with a grueling five-set win that sends him into the AO fourth round and puts his title defense in peril.

Photo credit: William West/Getty

A wounded Novak Djokovic survived a torn abdominal muscle with a spirited stand on Rod Laver Arena.

In a punishing five-set battle, a gutsy Djokovic absorbed Taylor Fritz’s menacing blows and showed fierce appetite for the fight despite a battered body that now puts his Australian Open title defense in peril.

Watch: Fan Flips Off Nadal, Rafa Reacts

The world No. 1 withstood it all erupting in a powerful primal scream of triumph over pain with a 7-6(1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 win over the American No. 1 that sent him into the AO round of 16 for the 14th time.

“This is definitely one of the most special wins in my life,” Djokovic said. “It does not matter what round it is, against who it is. Under these kinds of circumstances, to pull this through is definitely something I will remember forever.”

It completed a wild night of play that saw 2020 AO finalist Dominic Thiem rally from a two-set deficit to defeat Aussie Nick Kyrgios. 

Can the top seed recover in the next 48 hours?

Djokovic said he doesn’t know if his body will permit him to post.

“I know it's a tear, definitely, of the muscle,” Djokovic said in his post-match presser. “So I don't know if I'll manage to recover from that in less than two days.

“I don't know. I don't know. I don't know if I'm gonna step out onto the court or not. I am just very proud of this achievement tonight. Let's see what happens tomorrow.”

It was Djokovic’s 17th straight Melbourne victory and 299th career Grand Slam win and by the end of this three hour, 25 minute struggle there were no fans present as officials cleared the crowd prior to Victoria's five-day lockdown starting. Sustaining that streak will depend on Djokovic's recovery.

Seemingly on course for a straight-sets win, Djokovic slipped on the “Melbourne” sign embedded behind the baseline and crashed to the court while trying to change direction in the third game of the third set. An anguished Djokovic took a medical time out and was clearly compromised over the final three sets.

Gritting his teeth and often tugging at his ab muscle, the eight-time AO champion battled the injury that muted his vaunted return game and compelled him to hit two first serves for much of the rest of the match.

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Ultimately, Djokovic displayed determination and toughness fighting through to his 53rd career Grand Slam fourth round, but now confronts a major physical roadblock in his quest for an 18th major championship.

“I just tried to stay in there, you know, and I was hopeful that whatever is happening there is going to feel better and towards the end of the fourth it start to feel better” Djokovic said afterward. “In third and fourth set, I just, I don't know, I just served and couldn't do much on the return.

“I was just going for my shots. I was hitting two first serves, and it worked. It worked well. I don't know. This is definitely one of the most special wins in my life. Doesn't matter what round it is and against who it is. Under these kind of circumstances to pull this through is definitely something I'll remember forever.”

Tennis Express

The question is: how quickly can the 33-year-old Serbian recover for his fourth-round meeting with Milos Raonic?

The 14th-seeded Raonic ripped 13 aces repelling Marton Fucsovics 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 reaching the AO round of 16 for the sixth time in the last seven years.

Continuing his quest for a record-extending ninth Australian Open title, Djokovic carries an 11-0 lifetime record vs. Raonic into the fourth round—and plenty of questions.

After climbing off the court in the third set today, Djokovic, who has battled a left shoulder injury, struggled to even stretch for some returns. Fritz won 27 of 30 first-serve points in the third and fourth sets.

Still, Djokovic refused to yield. Gritting his teeth, the Serbian turned the tide in the fifth set when Fritz steered a forehand wide to face break point. Locking in behind the baseline, a disciplined Djokovic waited for the right shot and got it dropping a topspin forehand into the corner to break for 4-2 three hours and 13 minutes into the match.

The defending champion never looked back thrusting his arms toward the sky after a grueling win.

We will see a very different AO atmosphere starting with no fans tomorrow.

Both Djokovic and world No. 2 Rafael Nadal, who has been pained by a strained back that knocked him out of ATP Cup, carry physical questions into week two while rising young stars Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Andrey Rublev all look hungry for a maiden major.


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