After weeks of appearing to be below his best, it seems nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic has rediscovered the full extent of his powers.
- Novak Djokovic says he did not feel hampered by his hamstring in a straight-sets win over Alex de Minaur
- Asked why he so completely dismantled the last local hope in the singles draw, he said: “Because I wanted to.”
- Djokovic says he is singled out unfairly for speculation over the severity of his injuries
A heavily strapped left hamstring had given him trouble in lead-up tournaments and given hope to a men’s field full of upsets, but Djokovic was back to his dominant self as he thumped Australian Alex de Minaur 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 in just over two hours on Rod Laver Arena.
The victory leaves the fans in Melbourne without a local hope to cheer on in the men’s or women’s singles quarterfinals for the first time since 2018, but Djokovic was making no apologies to the crowd on Monday night.
“Because I wanted to,” he said when asked on court why he brushed his Australian opponent aside so completely.
“I cannot say I am sorry you [the crowd] haven’t watched a longer match, to be honest. I really wanted to win in straight sets.”
The 21-time major winner has only dropped one set in four matches ahead of his quarterfinal match-up with Russian Andrey Rublev, but that surprisingly came against French qualifier Enzo Couacaud in the second round.
He was also pushed to a first-set tie-break in the third round by 27th seed Grigor Dimitrov, in a match that also lasted more than three hours.
The 35-year-old said the injury has been up and down throughout the tournament, so he was wary of getting too far ahead of himself, but against de Minaur he did not feel restricted at all.
“Tonight It wasn’t obvious that I was dealing with an injury. I didn’t feel anything today, so today was great,” he said.
“I thank my medical team, my physio, I thank God — anybody that really helped me.”
Australian doubles legend Todd Woodbridge said on Channel Nine before the match that Djokovic may be “playing up” the severity of the injury as a tactical ploy, and de Minaur seemed to agree when asked in his post-match press conference about Djokovic’s health and all the speculation around the injury.
“I don’t know, you tell me how you thought he looked out there. I thought he was moving pretty well,” he said.
“Look, I don’t know. I think everyone’s kind of seen what’s been happening over the couple of weeks; it’s the only thing anyone’s been talking about.
“But today I was out there on court against him and either I’m not a good enough tennis player to expose that or … it just, it looked good to me.
“He was just too good in all aspects.”
‘Playing with a niggle … is not an injury’, Aussie star says
Djokovic reportedly said in the Serbian portion of his press conference that he was unfairly targeted for speculation over the extent of his injuries.
“I leave the doubting to those people – let them doubt,” he said, according to Tennis Majors.
“Only my injuries are questioned. When some other players are injured, then they are the victims, but when it is me, I am faking it. It is very interesting … I don’t feel that I need to prove anything to anyone.
He was quoted as saying he has scans from this year and 2021, when there were similar questions asked about an apparent abdominal injury, which he may make public at some point.
“I am not really interested at this point what people are thinking and saying,” he said.
“It is fun, it is interesting to see how the narrative surrounding me continues, narrative that is different compared to other players that have been going through similar situation. But I am used to it, and it just gives me extra strength and motivation.”
Currently on the comeback trail from a torn ACL, Australian Daria Saville said, “playing with a niggle, playing sore, even playing with chronic pain is not an injury”.
“An injury, that’s something that’s causing you enough pain to stop you from competing. Trust me, I freaking know,” the world number 56 tweeted.
World number nine Taylor Fritz said “everyone is always a little banged up” on tour, but the increased attention on the top few players meant their issues were scrutinised far more.
“Also, some players are more vocal talking about injuries then (sic) others,” he tweeted.
“I don’t think people fake injuries, I do think sometimes players stretch the severity of the injury because it depressurizes them and helps them play better (which honestly is fine, do whatever works).
“I don’t think it’s done in a bad sportsmanship kind of way … this is just what I see as a player, sometimes there [are] serious injuries, sometimes there (sic) over exaggerated ones from people 1-500 [in the rankings].”
Despite quote-tweeting Djokovic’s comments about his doubters, Fritz insisted he was “not talking about anyone in particular”.