Novak Djokovic dropped his first set of the tournament and lost his temper in the process, but the world No 1 is safely through to the fourth round of the Australian Open thanks to a 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 victory over Denis Shapovalov here on Saturday.
Shapovalov, a 19-year-old Canadian for whom a bright future is predicted, was outplayed in the first two sets but took advantage of Djokovic’s meltdown in the third to work his way back into the match before the six-times champion closed out his victory.
Djokovic lost his cool after his request to have the lights in Rod Laver Arena turned off during the third set. Muttering angrily to himself, he was broken twice in a row and lost the set.
The 31-year-old Serb said afterwards that he could not remember the lights being turned on as early as 5pm. “I just felt with such a low position of the sun, the lights being switched on at 5pm was completely unnecessary,” Djokovic said.
“It was very bright. There was no reason for the lights. But the explanation that I got from the supervisor was that TV requested that. Whatever TV says, we have to respect I guess.”
Djokovic admitted that he had been wrong to allow himself to get so agitated. “That should not happen to me,” he said. “I know better. I have experience. But it does happen, I guess. I allowed him to come back into the match.”
However, Djokovic was pleased with his overall performance. “I thought I played well, especially in the fourth set,” he said. “I expected Denis to come out and be aggressive. He made a lot of unforced errors, I thought, for the first set and a half.
“I just stayed solid from the back of the court and served well, played the right shots. For the first two sets, I just had things under control.”
He added: “It was important to start off the fourth set well. The first two games were close. Making that break was crucial for me. But I like the fact that I was tested, as well, because you want to be tested, especially as you are improving, going along in the tournament. Matches and opponents are going to get tougher. I feel like I've been playing well, so things are progressing well.”
Shapovalov faded quickly in the fourth set and admitted afterwards that he had felt “a little bit physically dead” at that stage.
The Canadian said the first two sets had taken a lot out of him. “It’s not every day I'm playing a match against a top guy like this on a stage like that,” he said. “Definitely I was a little bit nervous, a little bit tight on everything, just hesitating a little bit. I felt a little bit tight on everything.
“In the third set I loosened up and started playing my tennis. I just started really enjoying myself. I told myself: ‘Look, you're already down two sets, so just have fun out there.’ That's where I felt like I really started to play my game and really showed what I can do out there.”
Djokovic said Shapovalov had a complete game. “He’s got a big serve, a lot of rotation on the ball,” the Serb said. “He can hit it flat. He can hit it with a spin. I like his mentality. I like his confidence in himself, his approach. He's very positive on the court, always backing himself up. I like that.
“Obviously he's lacking some experience playing on the big stage in the big matches, but that's going to come. I like the way he plays. He seems like a guy who dedicates a lot of time to training and to the process of understanding how he can improve. These kind of experiences can only help him.”
Djokovic now meets another talented youngster in Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, who beat David Goffin 6-2, 7-6, 6-3. It will be Medvedev’s first appearance in the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament.
Kei Nishikori, who was taken to five sets in his first two matches, was happy to make swift work of Joao Sousa as he beat the Portuguese 7-6, 6-1, 6-2 to set up a fourth-round meeting with Pablo Carreno Busta, who beat Fabio Fognini 6-2, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
“I think today will help,” Nishikori said when asked how he felt physically going into the second week. “It was still tough, many long rallies. He was playing well, too. It wasn't an easy match. In my second round there were five sets but not too many rallies so I didn't waste too much energy. I should be OK.”
Sousa pushed Nishikori hard in the first set but the 29-year-old Japanese took control thereafter, particularly when he attacked the net.
“I started coming in a little more,” Nishikori said. “I think that was working well. I think I won many points at the net. Obviously I'm not going to make every single tough volley, but it's been working well. I hope I can do this a little more.”
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