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Hobbled Djokovic Survives in Five, Thiem Edges Kyrgios in Australian Open Tennis Thriller

Novak Djokovic fighting off Taylor Fritz at the Australian Open. EPA-EFE/DEAN LEWINS

By Ricky Dimon

It was survive and advance for Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open on Friday night.

Just how long his survival lasts is something that is in serious doubt.

Djokovic sustained an apparent abdominal injury during the third set of his third-round match against Taylor Fritz, but he managed to battle through it for a 7-6(1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 victory after three hours and 25 minutes. Although the world No. 1 looked down and out throughout the third and fourth sets, in typical Djokovic fashion he came up with the physical and mental goods when it mattered most.

“I just tried to stay in there,” Djokovic explained. “I was hopeful that whatever is happening there is going to feel better and towards the end of the fourth it start to feel better. In the third and fourth sets I just served and couldn’t do much on the return. I was just going for my shots. I was hitting two first serves, and it worked. It worked well.

“This is definitely one of the most special wins in my life; doesn’t matter what round it is and against who it is. Under these kind of circumstances, to pull this through is definitely something I’ll remember forever.”

Nobody outside of the players’ boxes will remember being there for the end–because they weren’t. Earlier in the day, the state of Victoria (which includes Melbourne) announced a five-day lockdown because of coronavirus concerns. It went into effect at midnight on Friday and therefore fans were forced to exit Rod Laver Arena at 11:30 pm local time early in the fifth set.

Novak Djokovic receives medical attention during his third round win over Taylor Fritz on Day 5 of the Australian Open. EPA-EFE/DEAN LEWINS

“To be completely honest, it’s absolutely ridiculous that at a Grand Slam match we’re asked to leave the court for 10 minutes in the middle of the match,” Fritz said of the stoppage caused by ushering the fans out. “That shouldn’t be a thing at a Grand Slam. You know, I understand the fact that Victoria is going back into lockdown and people have to go. If that’s the case, then we shouldn’t have played tonight if we weren’t going to finish the match on time.

“I guess not having fans there did I feel like it hurt me because they were kind of pushing for me…. It’s not like it made that big of a deal. I just think it’s not really proper conditions to be playing a third round of a slam.”

For many fans, though, they were able to see their favorite Australian player on their favorite court before the curfew came down on Melbourne.

Once again playing in John Cain Arena, Nick Kyrgios put on another five-set show. Whereas he was able to prevail over Ugo Humbert two days earlier, however, Kyrgios could not consolidate a two-set lead against 2020 U.S. Open champion and Australian Open runner-up Dominic Thiem.

Thiem clawed his way back to triumph 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in three hours and 21 minutes.

“It was an epic match,” the world No. 3 assessed. “I think (it was a) huge effort from both players. Honestly, I was already almost on my way home when I faced two break points in the beginning of the third set. But in general, I think it’s one of the tougher challenges out there in tennis to face Nick when he’s on fire on his favorite court with an unbelievable atmosphere and crowd behind him. So I’m super proud how I got through it, and (it) definitely gives me a big boost for what’s coming.”

Next up for Thiem is Grigor Dimitrov, who got a retirement from Pablo Carreno Busta. If Djokovic is able to take the court for fourth-round action, he will run into Milos Raonic on Sunday.

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.