Australian Open 2015: Novak Djokovic serves up notice of his intent

Pre-tournament concerns over his form are a distant memory

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The Independent Online

The concerns over Novak Djokovic’s pre-Australian Open form and health are becoming a distant memory. The world No 1, who was beaten by Ivo Karlovic in his only warm-up tournament and admitted a week ago that he had been troubled by a stomach bug and flu, reached the fourth round here for the ninth year in a row last night with an emphatic 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Spain’s Fernando Verdasco.

It is six years since Djokovic failed to make the second week of a Grand Slam event. He never looked like slipping up after winning the tie-break at the end of the first set. After Verdasco had served a horrible double fault when leading 5-3, Djokovic eventually won the tie-break 10-8.

The Serb put a higher percentage of first serves in court than in any of his previous Australian Open matches. “Because I served well, that’s what helped me to get out of trouble in big moments,” he said. “I didn’t give him too many similar serves. I changed the pace, the angles. I tried to go for accuracy, vary with the serve, not give him rhythm.”

Novak Djokovic celebrates his straight-sets victory over Andrey Kuznetsov

Djokovic has not lost a set in his first three matches and will be a red-hot favourite to reach his 23rd consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final when he takes on the world No 42, Luxembourg’s Gilles Müller, who beat John Isner 7-6, 7-6, 6-4. In the last eight Djokovic could meet Milos Raonic, who maintained his impressive run by beating Benjamin Becker 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

The top half of the draw also features the defending champion, Stan Wawrinka, who completed a third successive straight-sets victory when he beat Jarkko Nieminen 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, and Kei Nishikori, last year’s US Open runner-up. The 25-year-old Japanese has made slow starts in his last two matches but eventually gave a superb display of shot-making as his 6-7, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 victory over the hard-hitting American Steve Johnson earned a fourth-round meeting with David Ferrer.

Petra Kvitova, the Wimbledon champion and one of the favourites for the title, went out of the tournament when she was beaten 6-4, 7-5 by Madison Keys, of the United States. Keys, who recently recruited Lindsay Davenport to her coaching team, reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time with some awesome big hitting.

Keys next plays another young American with the same first name. Madison Brengle, who beat Coco Vandeweghe 6-3, 6-2, made her Australian Open debut eight years ago but had won only one Grand Slam match before last week. She was only cleared to travel here this month after having a tumour removed from her knee.

Serena and Venus Williams are both through to the last 16 of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time for four years, but the two sisters had to come from behind to win their third-round matches. Serena looked badly out of sorts in losing the first set to Elina Svitolina but went on to crush the Ukrainian 4-6, 6-2, 6-0. Venus went within two points of defeat to Camila Giorgi before recovering to win 4-6, 7-6, 6-1.

“My next match I’m just going to have a longer warm-up, a more intense warm-up,” Serena said. “But as long as I was able to come through today, I can always have an opportunity for tomorrow.”

Serena now meets Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, who beat her at the French Open last summer. The world No 1 believes that defeat was “a good loss”. She explained: “As angry as I was, it was the best loss I had the whole of last year. I had a lot of them, but that one in particular made me realise what I needed to work on. ”

Venus faces an even tougher task, against Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska. It is the five-times Wimbledon champion’s first appearance in the fourth round of a Grand Slam event since 2011. “I don’t want to stop now, I want to keep it going,” she said, before adding: “This little cat has a few tricks up her sleeve.”