Novak Djokovic beat Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets – 7-6 (9-7) 6-3 6-4 – to move in the last 16 of the Australian Open, despite a labored performance from the world No. 5 who was visibly struggling to move at points during the match.
Djokovic, who is arguably the favorite to win the competition after Rafael Nadal and Casper Ruud were knocked out, came into the Saturday’s clash carrying a hamstring injury, although he seemed to ease those worries as he broke Dimitrov’s serve in the first game.
But Djokovic pulled up feeling his hamstring later in the first set and was forced to take a medical timeout after winning a grueling tie break.
After some treatment, Djokovic returned a new man and took advantage of Dimitrov’s loose play to take the second set comfortably.
The Bulgarian had not dropped a single set in the previous two rounds, but he could not keep up with the metronomic Djokovic.
Despite playing well in the first set, Dimitrov was unable to recover after losing it.
He was sensational at times, serving 15 aces and playing some terrific shots, but for ever classy stroke, there was an equally wild one and he ended the match with 50 unforced errors.
If there is anyone who can punish silly mistakes, even while carrying an injury, it is the relentless Djokovic.
It was not a pretty victory, but even while struggling with fitness, Djokovic’s defense was unshakeable and frustrated Dimitrov time and time again.
Following an attritional third set in which five serves were broken, Djokovic eventually closed out the match to win in straight sets and continue his hunt for a 22nd grand slam title.
Djokovic will now face Australian Alex de Minaur in the round of 16 and the 23-year-old will have a raucous home crowd behind him.