Djokovic slips under radar into last eight

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The Independent Online

A refreshed Novak Djokovic has been quietly working his way through the Australian Open draw, leaving the other contenders for the first grand slam of the season to steal the limelight and the headlines.

It was only two years ago when Djokovic lifted the trophy at Melbourne Park, grinding down Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in four sets to win his maiden grand slam.

Yet the gifted 22-year-old has almost been the forgotten man this year despite easing effortlessly past his first four opponents to book a place in the last eight.

After a crushing 6-1 6-2 7-5 win over hapless fourth-round opponent Lukasz Kubot today, Djokovic faces a quarter-final re-match against Tsonga, and feels quietly confident.

"Jo can beat anyone if he's really on the roll and if he starts hitting the ball well," Djokovic told reporters.

"I just to have keep pressuring him and just apply my style of the game, not allow him to control the match.

"I'm happy with the way things are going.

"I won this tournament two years ago, so I just look forward to the upcoming challenges. I'm ready to give my 100 percent and try to get a step further."

The Serbian has ended the last three seasons at number three behind Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, but has been unable to add to his grand slam tally since beating Tsonga here in 2008.

On-court his strong all-round game lacks a signature weapon, while off it, his speech lacks sound bites.

Djokovic doesn't buy into the banter about "scared" opponents and prize-money splurges that rolls casually off Davydenko's tongue.

The Serbian's press conferences are like his game - meticulous, efficient and not quite so well-attended as his rivals' ones are.

"Well, it's the fourth round. I knew that as a seeded player, if you look at the draw, I probably had the best possible draw at the moment," Djokovic said matter-of-factly about his progress.

As defending champion, Djokovic crashed out of the quarter-finals last year due to heat exhaustion and could not get further than a semi-final in the other three grand slams.

That record, for a player who wants to be number one and has the game to challenge Nadal and Federer, still smarts.

"In a way I was expecting a lot, especially from Roland Garros in 2009, because I had the best year on clay courts by far."

"This year is absolutely something else. I just feel very confident playing."