Novak Djokovic is through to the last 16 of the Australian Open but doubts about his fitness surfaced again as the Serb twice had to have treatment on his left hip during his 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
The Spaniard rarely looked capable of outplaying Djokovic at a tournament where he has won the title six times, but the former world No 1 is still having to work his way back to full health, having arrived here without any competitive matches under his belt since Wimbledon because of an elbow problem.
Djokovic, who had also had to deal with gruelling heat before overcoming Gael Monfils 48 hours earlier, said: “I haven't played for six months. We have to take that into consideration. I played a long match against Gael. It hasn’t happened too many times in my career that I have maybe had some tensions in the muscles or whatever, some kind of physical challenges.
“But these kind of circumstances in which I'm in at the moment are quite different. I've never faced a situation where I didn’t compete for six months. That’s why I'm forced to be very cautious in what happens day-to-day and be dedicated to my body and training.
“It’s nothing major to be concerned about. It’s just things that surface every day. I guess it’s normal. A lot of athletes are facing this kind of pain throughout their body in big competitions and they deal with it. I deal with it. It's fine. I finished the match. I'm very pleased about that.”
Djokovic said he had had to work hard for his victory. “Ramos-Vinolas doesn’t hand you the win,” he said. “He makes you earn it. It was great for me to actually get into those long exchanges and rallies, to get some rhythm on the court.”
In the fourth round Djokovic will take on the 21-year-old Korean, Hyeon Chung, who beat the fourth seed, Alexander Zverev, 5-7, 7-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0. Chung, the world No 58, had never previously reached the last 16 of a Grand Slam tournament.
After his excellent season in 2017 Zverev had been hoping to make his mark in the Grand Slam tournaments this year, but this was the latest in a series of disappointments the 20-year-old has suffered at this level.
Twelve months ago Zverev looked to be in control against Rafael Nadal, only to lose their third-round match in five sets after cramping badly in the closing stages. He went on to lose to Fernando Verdasco in the first round at the French Open, to Milos Raonic in the fourth round at Wimbledon and to Borna Coric in the second round at the US Open.
Chung, who beat Zverev’s brother Mischa in the first round, remained focused throughout, but the frustrations clearly got to his opponent, who complained about the light and smashed a racket after dropping his serve in the opening game of the deciding set, which the Korean won in just 23 minutes.
“I have some figuring out to do, what happens to me in deciding moments in Grand Slams,” Zverev said afterwards. “It happened at Wimbledon, it happened in New York, it happened here. But I’m still young, so I’ve got time.”
Roger Federer is also through to the last 16, but the 36-year-old Swiss was sometimes below his best against Richard Gasquet. Although the defending champion won 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 to complete his 17th victory in his 19 meetings with the Frenchman, he made almost twice as many errors – 30 to Gasquet’s 16 – and let slip an early break in the third set.
When Gasquet served at 4-5, nevertheless, Federer sealed his victory with three splendid winners in a row – a forehand return winner down the line followed by two rasping backhands.
“The match was tight,” Federer said afterwards. “I think I was able to stay a bit more on the offensive than he was. I was maybe protecting my own serve better than he was.”
In the next round Federer will face Marton Fucsovics, who beat Argentina’s Nicolas Kicker 6-3, 6-3, 6-2. The 25-year-old world No 80 is the first Hungarian to reach the last 16 of a Grand Slam tournament since Balazs Taroczy at the French Open in 1984.
The meeting between Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro had been expected to be a closely-fought showdown between two of the game’s biggest hitters, but the Czech won a one-sided contest 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 to reach the fourth round here for the 10th time.
“He was just better than me today,” Del Potro said afterwards. “He hit very hard, he served very well and played a smart game. He deserved to win. No excuses today.”
Thirteen Americans featured in the men’s draw here and few would have expected Tennys Sandgren to be the last of them left standing. However, the world No 97 is through to the last 16 of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time after beating Germany's Maximilian Marterer 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 7-6.
Sandgren, who had lost in the first round in both of his previous appearances at a Grand Slam tournament, has taken full advantage of the luck which has helped him through the draw here.
Having beaten Jeremy Chardy in straight sets in his opening match, Sandgren beat a hobbling Stan Wawrinka in the second round and in the third faced an opponent who had never won a tour-level match before this week. Marterer, the world No 94, had also had a demanding five-set victory over Verdasco in the previous round.
“It's kind of silly,” Sandgren said after becoming the last American left in the men’s singles. “I didn’t think I’d make the second week when I came here. I was hoping to play a few good matches or try to get my first win, things like that. But to realistically set my sights on a second week wasn’t on the cards.”
Sandgren will now take on the fifth seed, Dominic Thiem, who beat Adrian Mannarino 6-4, 6-2, 7-5. The Austrian has now reached the fourth round or better at each of his past six Grand Slam tournaments.
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