Novak Djokovic took several shots from Frances Tiafoe on Wednesday inside Rod Laver Arena. But like you’d expect from the World No. 1, the Serbian found a way to withstand them and prevail.
Djokovic defeated the 23-year-old American 6-3, 6-7(3), 7-6(2), 6-3 behind 26 aces to reach the third round of the Australian Open. The top seed wasn’t always at his best, but he played well in key moments to triumph after three hours and 30 minutes.
“It was a very tough match, very warm and a lot of long rallies,” Djokovic said on court. “I want to say that Frances put up a really good fight. The matches are only going to get tougher. I was fortunate to get through the third set today. It was anyone’s game and Frances served great.”
The World No. 1, who is pursuing a record-extending ninth title at this event, had not played Tiafoe before walking onto the court inside Rod Laver Arena for their second-round clash. But Djokovic got all he could handle and then some. However, he showed his champion’s mettle as he pushes for an 18th major trophy.
“When you win a lot on Rod Laver Arena, you feel comfortable,” Djokovic said. “It feels like my living room, although I’m not sitting on my couch – I’m running all over the place. This is the quickest court conditions in the 15 years that I’ve played here.”
Tiafoe, who made a dream run to the Australian Open quarter-finals in 2019, showed how he accomplished that with an inspired performance in front of a raucous crowd. The American had very few lapses of concentration and showed no fear of the moment, instead embracing it and trying to get the crowd involved. There was even a group of young fans holding a sign titled “Church of Frances Tiafoe”.
But while Tiafoe showed stretches of splendid shotmaking and composed play to challenge Djokovic, the few momentary slips of concentration he did have were costly. Djokovic converted five of his 14 break points and went into his trademark “lockdown mode” in the critical third-set tie-break, which made Tiafoe’s prospects of an upset even more daunting.
The final blow came at 3-3 in the fourth set. Facing break point, Djokovic’s forehand return bounced high off the top of the net, and the American rushed in to hit a backhand approach shot. Tiafoe’s problem was that Djokovic guessed the right direction and made the World No. 64 pay by lacing a backhand passing shot up the line for a winner.
The match slipped away from Tiafoe quickly after that. He fought hard throughout, but struck his eighth double fault on match point.
“I was impressed with the way he was competing. He served very well. He fought hard. I thought we both played on a pretty high level. He pushed me to the very limit,” said Djokovic. “[The] second and the third sets were really super close. I was fortunate to get the two-sets-to-one lead. Obviously in the fourth [set], I had more chances and kind of capitalised on them midway through the fourth set.”
Djokovic will meet Taylor Fritz for a place in the Round of 16. The American recovered from 1/5 down in a fourth-set tie-break to clinch a 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 6-2 victory against countryman Reilly Opelka.
Fritz withstood 91 winners, including 43 aces, during the four-hour, seven-minute battle to book a meeting with the World No. 1 on Friday. The 27th seed, who claimed two of his three service breaks in the deciding set, improves his ATP Head2Head advantage against Opelka to 4-1.
Djokovic has won his past two ATP Head2Head matches against Fritz in straight sets. The 17-time Grand Slam champion beat Fritz 6-3, 6-0 at the 2019 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters and claimed a 6-4, 6-2 win against the American at the 2019 Mutua Madrid Open.
Did You Know?
Djokovic has not lost before the fourth round of a Grand Slam since the 2017 Australian Open. The last time it happened before that was 2008 Wimbledon.