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Tennis • 10sBalls Checks In From The Australian Open • Words Of Wisdom By Alix Ramsay

There is a warm and comforting feeling that comes with returning to the scene of your best memories: life is good here, nothing can hurt us here, this is where we belong.

And so it is that Novak Djokovic is sitting comfortably and securely in his 11th Australian Open quarter-final where he will meet Milos Raonic, a man he had made a habit of beating over the years: nine wins out of nine and only two sets dropped to the big Canadian in seven years. As warm fuzzy feelings go, it does not get much better than this.

But Djokovic himself is about as warm and fuzzy as a great white shark. Moving silently and – seemingly – effortlessly through the draw, anything in his path is ripped to shreds with ruthless efficiency. Apart from half an hour in the first round, a 30-minute spell that cost him a set against Jan-Lennard Struff, Djokovic has not put a foot wrong since he arrived in Melbourne.

He moved into the last eight with the most straight forward of 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 wins over the diminutive but dogged Diego Schwartzman. He could have made a few less errors (31 unforced did look a little untidy) and he could have gone for the jugular a little earlier, but, all in all, Djokovic could not have been much happier with his day’s work.

“It feels great,” he said. “I had a fantastic couple of matches in a row, centre court, last two rounds. I felt more confident going through the ball, hitting serves really well.

“Today was a good test because Diego was in form, he hasn’t dropped a set in three rounds. Obviously, he can be a very dangerous opponent from the baseline if you give him time. I knew that. I stepped out on the court with a clear game plan what I need to do. I think I kept things pretty much in control in all three sets. Maybe could have finished the match a bit earlier.

“But, you know, all in all, it was a very solid performance.”

Then again, most of Djokovic’s performances in Melbourne are solid. This is his happiest of hunting grounds and he is now chasing down an eighth Norman Brookes trophy. No one and nothing seems to trouble him around these parts and certainly not that big Canadian bloke with the big Canadian serve; Djokovic has seen bigger and better in Ivo Karlovic and John Isner – Raonic holds no fear for the world No.2.

“He’s not as tall as these two guys,” Djokovic said simply. “They’re 6’10” or something, 2 meters 10. They’re the tallest players to ever play tennis. Obviously it’s a huge advantage when you hit serves from that height. You can hit any angle, anything you really want. That puts a lot of pressure on your opponent.

“But, of course, that also has some disadvantages in terms of movement. If the returner gets the ball back in play, then I think Raonic is better than these two guys.

“But I feel like maybe you could read his serve better than Isner and Karlovic. I don’t want to say it’s slightly slower, but just a little bit of a different toss, different technique. You can probably get some looks at second serves or breakpoints and stuff like this maybe a bit more than the other two guys.

“Again, it’s such a minor difference that you don’t really notice it so much. But on the court it makes a big difference.”

Raonic is fully aware of this problem: he cracked down 35 aces against Marin Cilic in his 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 win but he is not sure that will be enough against Djokovic. Nothing is ever quite enough against Djokovic.

“I’m going to have to serve well, clearly,” he said, “and then I think I’m going to have to get my return at a high percentage, make him play a lot of those points, and then try to be efficient on my service games.

“I think we play quite opposite from each other, and he’s done a good job in the past neutralising my serve. So, I have really got to focus on my things well and be the one dictating.”

Yes, good luck with that Milos. So far this week, four men have come to the court with a clear idea of what they need to do and four men have left with their game plans in tatters. Djokovic is good at doing that to anyone who dares interfere with his ambitions.

Roger Federer, too, does not like anyone to disrupt his plans and after John Millman came so, so close to upending the Great One on Friday night, he showed little sign of letting anyone come that close to an upset again. After taking a set to get his 38-year-old legs moving against Marton Fucsovics on Sunday night, he scampered into the last eight 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. He now takes on Tennys Sandgren and, should he win that, he could be up against Djokovic in the semi-finals.

“It was a tough start,” Federer said. “I though Marton played clean. I guess after the Millman match, that took my confidence away a little bit so I had to find a way tonight and then I got a good start in the second set and things got a little easier after that.”

And just to make the rest of us feel a little better, Fed admitted that getting out of bed on Saturday morning was anything but easy.

“I was lying in bed for like an hour,” he said. “I was waiting: when are we going to stand up? Then it was one, two, three and aarrrggghhh! But I’m sure it will get better with every day as we go on…”

Ah, bless – the old fella finds it hard to get out of bed after a late night. So do we Rodge, so do we. But we didn’t play four-and-a-half hours of grand slam level tennis to get into that state in the first place. Hey-ho. Maybe he’s not like us, after all.


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