Novak Djokovic suffered a scare in more ways than one Thursday evening at the Australian Open. However, the nine-time champion persevered to reach the third round at Melbourne Park.
Despite struggling with his left leg, which was wrapped, the Serbian clawed past Frenchman Enzo Couacaud 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-0. Djokovic appeared in difficulty after losing the second-set tie-break but immediately refocused to charge through the rest of the match after three hours and four minutes.
“There was a lot happening in tonight’s match,” Djokovic said. “He deserves credit for the fight. He played some great tennis, especially in the second set. He deservedly pushed the match to four sets. We both had some medical timeouts and struggled a little bit but I managed to respond well in the third and fourth. I love playing night sessions. Let’s keep it going.”
The Serbian is chasing a record-tying 22nd Grand Slam trophy this fortnight and will reclaim No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings if he wins the title. The 35-year-old will keep his focus directly in front of him, though, with former World No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov looming in the third round.
There were moments in the match against Couacaud when advancing did not seem a sure thing. As the second set wore on, Djokovic became more hampered by his left hamstring injury. Playing with heavy strapping, the fourth seed winced after stretching for a ball at 4-4, calling for a medical timeout when trailing 4-5.
His movement was clearly compromised and Couacaud took full advantage, swinging freely and embracing the crowd at Melbourne Park. When Djokovic let slip the second set in a tie-break, it was unclear how his body would react for the rest of the match.
But the Serbian never panicked. Instead, he locked in and improved physically, winning 12 of the match’s final 14 games.
World No. 191 Couacaud put forth a courageous effort in his first match against a Top 10 opponent. But once Djokovic’s movement improved in the third set, the Frenchman was unable to respond.
“It is expected when you walk on the court as favorite and you play someone on this stage for the first time, of course, they are going to go for their shots,” Djokovic said. “You just accept it. I had many opportunities in the second to win it and I didn’t. He pushed it to a third and fourth set and you just have to deal with it.
“Sometimes the situations don’t go your way but that is a sport. I have been in these situations before, so many times in my life and career, so I think that also helps, the experience of understanding what you need to do at the moment to give your best.”
Djokovic now holds a 7-0 record on the season, having captured his 92nd tour-level title in Adelaide earlier this month. It was at the ATP 250 that Djokovic hurt his leg in the semi-finals against Daniil Medvedev.
Djokovic’s next opponent, Dimitrov, defeated Laslo Djere 6-3, 6-2, 6-0. The former World No. 1 leads their ATP Head2Head series 9-1.