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Australian Open: Novak Djokovic makes it through to the fourth round with victory against Grigor Dimitrov

Novak Djokovic continued his charge towards a 10th Australian Open title with a superb victory over Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov to reach the fourth round on Saturday but fears about the durability of his injured left hamstring only grew

Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts after defeating Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria in their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Image: Novak Djokovic was forced to battle hard against Grigor Dimitrov as he continued his charge towards a 10th Australian Open title

Novak Djokovic continued to defy a hamstring injury as a straight-sets victory over Grigor Dimitrov sent him into the fourth round of the Australian Open.

The title favourite admitted after needing a medical timeout and dropping a set to French qualifier Enzo Couacaud that he was concerned, and a meeting with 27th seed Dimitrov was a much better test of his physical condition.

He took another timeout after falling to the floor at the side of the court at the end of the first set but, despite continuing to limp and looking uncomfortable at times, clinched a 7-6 (9-7) 6-3 6-4 victory.

Dimitrov vs Djokovic: Match Stats

Dimitrov Match Stats Djokovic
16 Aces 11
4 Double Faults 2
68% 1st serve win percentage 74%
40% 2nd serve win percentage 42%
3/8 Break points won 5/12
15/21 Net points won 15/20
53 Total winners 28
50 Unforced errors 22
105 Total points won 123

Djokovic said: "It kind of always starts well and then some movement happens and then it gets worse. Pills kick in, some hot cream and stuff, that works for a little bit, then it doesn't, then works again. It's really a roller coaster, honestly.

"It requires a lot of energy that is being spent from my side mentally and physically, as well, to deal with the match with my opponent and also with a not-ideal physical state.

"But it is what it is. It's kind of circumstances that you have to accept. I'm just very grateful that I'm actually able to play. The way it looked just before the tournament started, I thought that it wouldn't be possible.

"I'm still here and still holding on. I don't know what awaits, but I do hope and I have faith for the best."

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It was only two years ago that Djokovic tore an abdominal muscle during the tournament yet still managed to win a ninth title, and none of his rivals will be expecting him to give up the chance of a 10th without an almighty battle.

The strapping on Djokovic's left leg was even more substantial than on previous days but he settled well into the match, breaking serve in the opening game.

Dimitrov saved three set points at 5-3 and it appeared Djokovic was in full control but he was broken serving for the set and then had to save two set points, one at 5-6 and one in the tie-break.

When he took the set with a volley, the crowd would have expected to see a celebration, but instead Djokovic collapsed to the court looking stony-faced and called for the trainer.

The pain was evident on his face as he had the muscle massaged but, although there were moments when Djokovic did not appear to be moving properly, particularly going forwards, he was able to hare around on the baseline seemingly without too much hindrance.

Having beaten Dimitrov nine times in their previous 10 meetings probably helped. The Bulgarian at times threatened to make things complicated for Djokovic but, despite going down on the court twice more, he found a way through.

The Serbian, who is into the fourth round for the 15th time, will next play Australia's Alex de Minaur.

Alex de Minaur of Australia celebrates after defeating Benjamin Bonzi of France in their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Image: Alex de Minaur continued the Aussie charge in Melbourne by making it through to the fourth round

De Minaur defeated Benjamin Bonzi 7-6 (7-0) 6-2 6-1 to book his place in the fourth round, where he will play either Novak Djokovic or Grigor Dimitrov.

"I hope everyone that was on this court right now is going to go and support Alexei Popyrin," De Minaur said.

"That's all we do. Us Aussies, we stick together. We've got a bright future ahead and let's get 'Popeye' to the line today."

The 23-year-old also spoke about Djokovic's injury, saying he's not reading too much into it.

"Ultimately he's one of the best players in the world, and I'm just going to have to take it to him and not shy away from the occasion. I'm going to make sure to make it as tough as I can."

Ninth seed Holger Rune beat Frenchman Ugo Humbert 6-4 6-2 7-6 (7-5) to cruise into the last 16 for the first time in Melbourne, where he will face fifth seed Andrey Rublev.

The Danish teenager was trailing in the third set tie-break after a double fault but clawed his way back to seal progress.

Rublev came through a tricky encounter against Dan Evans to win 6-4 6-2 6-3 after firing 60 winners past the Briton.

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