Novak Djokovic said Thursday he cannot practise between matches and is worried that a hamstring injury could derail his bid for a record-extending 10th Australian Open crown.
The Serb defied the injury and rowdy fans to make the third round with a 6-1, 6-7, 6-2, 6-0 win over French qualifier Enzo Couacaud on Rod Laver Arena.
It was his 23rd straight win on the Melbourne Park centre court, as he steps up his quest for a 22nd Grand Slam crown.
In a colourful clash against an opponent ranked 191, Djokovic needed medical treatment and also had a major moment with the umpire, demanding that a drunken fan be thrown out.
His dogged win sets up a mouth-watering clash against
Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov, who swept past another Serb, Laslo Djere, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0.
With three top 10 seeds – Rafael Nadal, Casper Ruud and Taylor Fritz – already out of the tournament, and world number one Carlos Alcaraz injured, Djokovic’s route to another title has become easier.
That’s if his left hamstring holds up.
“I am worried, I have reason to be worried,” he said.
“But at the same time I have to accept the circumstances and try to adjust myself with my team. My physio and medical team has been doing everything possible so that I can be able to play every match.
“My situation with my injury is not ideal … I have to take it day by day.
“I’m not practising in the days between because I’m trying to give myself more time for my leg to be in somewhat more of an ideal state.
“But I have to accept the circumstances and try to adjust myself,” he added. “I have two choices – to leave or to keep going. I am going to keep going and try and play and compete. I don’t know how my body is going to react. I hope for the best.”
Hamstring injury aside, Djokovic endured a wild night on Rod Laver Arena with fans getting under the Serbian’s skin.
In the fourth set was when the 21-time Grand Slam winner blew up and demanded the hecklers, dressed in Where’s Wally attire, be sent packing.
“He’s been provoking all night, the entire night, the entire night — what are you going to do about it?” Djokovic complained to the umpire.
“What are you going to do about it? What?”
After giving him the umpire a chance to speak, Djokovic continued: “You’re kidding me, you know who it is. The guy’s drunk out of his mind. From the first point he’s been provoking. He’s not here to watch tennis. He just wants to get in my head. So I’m asking you, what are you going to do about it? You’ve heard him at least 10 times — I’ve heard him 50 times. What are you going to do about it?
“Why not? Why don’t you get security guards and get him out of the stadium?”
The cameras soon found the man who blew kisses to the Serbian star.
A security guard did intervene, sitting in front of the men.
However, after continued interruptions they were escorted from the stadium.
The question in the commentary box was whether they had said something over the top to provoke the response from Djokovic.
Speaking in his press conference about the incident, Djokovic said “the super majority of people are always respectful”.
“What I have a problem with is when somebody‘s crossing the line – numerous times. From the very beginning, guys that were under the influence of alcohol, it was obvious, and I was grabbing my towel very close to them, particularly one guy, you heard his voice various times tonight, was insulting me and provoking me and saying things that were not respectful at all.”
Djokovic added that the chair umpire should have done more to stamp out the bad behaviour from the fan.
“It‘s just unnecessary because why should we as players be put in a position where we have to always react when it‘s been two hours. It’s not been 10 minutes. This is what I mind, and this is why I felt the need to go out there because I had enough, you know?
“I can tolerate five, six times somebody telling me something, but there is a limit. That limit was crossed, and I stepped in and I asked the chair umpire, is he going to do something about it or not? He did, and I thanked him.”