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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, January 19, 2023


Novak Djokovic combated cranky hamstring and a tricky Enzo Couacaud in a 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-0 conquest to advance to the AO third round for the 15th time.

Photo credit: Andy Cheung/Getty

Seeded casualties continue to pile up in this wild Australian Open.

Working with a leg issue, Novak Djokovic is taming trauma in his Melbourne Park return.

More: McDonald Topples Hobbled Nadal

Continuing his quest for a 22nd Grand Slam title, Djokovic combated cranky hamstring and a tricky Enzo Couacaud in a 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-0 conquest to advance to the Australian Open third round for the 15th time in 18 AO appearances.

It was Djokovic's 23rd consecutive Australian Open victory and his 36th straight victory on Australian soil. 

The nine-time Australian Open champion prevailed through a second-round hurdle that saw top-seeded rival Rafael Nadal bow to Mackenzie McDonald and second-seeded Casper Ruud fall in four sets to Jenson Brooksby. 

It wasn't a completely drama-free evening as Djokovic took treatment for his ongoing hamstring injury that he concedes "is not ideal."

Continuing his quest for a men's record-tying 22nd Grand Slam crown, Djokovic played with taping snaking around his left hamstring in an effort to protect the injury he suffered en route to his 92nd career title in Adelaide earlier this month.

"It was obviously him and I had some injuries, medical timeouts. My situation with my injury is not ideal," Djokovic told the media in Melbourne. "I obviously don't want to go too deep into that. I wish that some things were different with the way I feel with my leg, but it is what it is. I have to take it day by day."

An Australian Open warrior playing for his record-setting 10th AO crown admits he's an AO worrier.

Tennis Express

An elastic mover, Djokovic's court coverage is a key component to his Melbourne Park dominance. The nagging hamstring issue gives Djokovic cause for concern as he plays for history this month. 

"I am worried. I mean, I cannot say that I'm not," Djokovic said. "I have reason to be worried. But at the same time I have to accept the circumstances and try to adjust myself with my team. My physio and medical team has been doing everything possible so that I can be able to play every match."

Still, Djokovic seemed to be moving more fluidly as the match progressed and played assertive offense. Djokovic faced only one break points and fired 63 winners against 36 errors in a three hour, four-minute victory.

Encouraging news for Djokovic is that he closed with conviction for the second straight match.

In his opener, Djokovic rolled through 10 of the last 11 games in a 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 dismissal of Roberto Carballes Baena. After dropping the second set tonight, Djokovic elevated his level to a place the French qualifier could not reside.

A refocused Djokovic won 12 of the first 13 points of the third set bursting out to a 3-0 lead. A streaking Djokovic flew threw the final eight games to raise his AO record to 84-8.  

Musicians understand the importance of the space between the notes they play.

As a gimpy Djokovic plays to orchestrate a 22nd career major title, he knows recover days are vital.

This presents an intriguing challenge: Can Djokovic win a Grand Slam title without practicing on his days off? That's exactly what Djokovic says he aims to do.

"Good thing that we have in Grand Slams is always a day off between the matches, so at least you have some time to try to recover and get ready for the next match," Djokovic said. "That's what I'm going to do. I am not practicing basically on the days between 'cause I'm trying to give myself the more time possible for my leg to be in somewhat of an 'ideal' state for performance on a high level."

This Melbourne comeback could take another dramatic turn when Djokovic meets 2017 semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov in round three.

The 29th-seeded Dimitrov dismissed Djokovic's Serbian compatriot Laslo Djere 6-3, 6-2, 6-0 winning 32 of 37 first-serve points.

In the end, the former world No. 1 sees only two options: grit his teeth and play on or pack his bags and go home. Djokovic is clearly committed to his choice.

"There's two choices: leave it or keep going. So I'm going to keep going," Djokovic said. "I'm going to try to play and compete with, of course, a great player Dimitrov in a couple days' time. I know matches are only going to get tougher for me from here. Two years ago I had kind of similar circumstances here in Australia with a different muscle where I had a tear and I had to deal with that. Somehow I pushed it through and won the tournament.

"But it's different now, obviously. I don't know how my body's going to react. I hope for the best. I hope for the positive outcome. I'll take it day by day, match by match, and see how it goes."


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