Novak Djokovic rallied to a courageous 7-6(1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 win over American Taylor Fritz in front of empty stands at the Rod Laver Arena late on Friday but in unsure if he will be able to defend his Australian Open title.
The World No 1 survived an abdominal tear and jeers from a belligerent crowd to set up a fourth-round clash against Milos Raonic.
“I know it’s a tear of the muscle, definitely, I don’t know if I’ll manage to recover from that in two days,” he said on court after beating Fritz.
Djokovic remonstrated boisterous fans in the fourth game of the second set after pulling out of his service motion due to crowd noise.
He received loud jeers as the crowd shifted their support to Fritz, but Djokovic responded by holding serve and celebrating wildly much to the derision of spectators, who won’t be in attendance until Thursday due to Melbourne’s lockdown.
Fans were advised well in advance that they would need to leave the arena at 11:30pm, half an hour before Melbourne entered a snap lockdown at midnight on Friday to contain a fresh outbreak of the virus.
Play was suspended in the fourth set of Djokovic’s match to have fans clear out but many left slowly and grudgingly. Some booed and shouted for refunds on their tickets.
Djokovic ended up completing victory some 20 minutes after midnight and his roars of triumph echoed around the arena.
Thiem survives Kyrgios scare
The action on day five reached a crescendo earlier at John Cain Arena, where US Open champion Dominic Thiem came back to win a five-set thriller against home hero Nick Kyrgios.
As fans roared Kyrgios to a two-set lead in the atmosphere of a football match, police on horse-back dispersed several hundred anti-lockdown protesters directly outside the stadium.
The third-seed Austrian, who finished runner-up to Novak Djokovic last year, lived to fight another day after suppressing the power of Nick Kyrgios and a vocal crowd in a 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 third-round victory at the Australian Open.
“There are easier things than playing Nick at his home tournament on his favourite court,” said Thiem.
“He is a huge player when he is on fire like today. When I was down two break points in the first game of the third set, I was considering the prospect of losing.
“But I kept fighting and with the break in the third set, I thought there was a chance to turn it around. The longer the match went on, the more comfortable I felt.”
Qualifier sends Schwartzman packing
Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev overpowered eighth-seeded Argentine Diego Schwartzman with 50 winners in a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory for a place in the Australian Open fourth round.
The World No 114, playing just his 16th tour-level match and maiden major championship, didn’t blink on Friday in his first match against a top-10 player.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling, I qualified so I was already very happy,” said Karatsev. “I’ve had a lot of worries over the past few years, so I am relieved, overjoyed to be at this stage. I had a big knee injury a few years ago, so to be here and represent Russia at the ATP Cup last week really gave me confidence.”
Karatsev was outside of the Top 250 in March last year, but following the ATP Tour suspension due to the pandemic, the 27-year-old won 18 of his final 20 matches on the ATP Challenger Tour.
He will take on Felix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round. Auger-Aliassime won the battle of the Canadians, as he defeated good friend Denis Shapovalov 7-5, 7-5, 6-3.