MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic paused his service routine and started aggressively stretching out his left leg. There have been simply seven factors left to wrap up his third-round Australian Open match in opposition to Grigor Dimitrov, however he was clearly in ache.

Djokovic’s left hamstring has been inflicting him grief throughout the first week right here in Melbourne. His motion and mobility has been hampered, but he has dropped only one set en path to the spherical of 16 as he chases a record-equaling twenty second main title.

His run is proving to be eerily much like 2021, when he nursed an indirect tear to a ninth Australian Open crown.

On Monday night, Djokovic will face Australian hope and twenty second seed Alex De Minaur — who matched his finest end result at his residence Slam with a third-round win over Frenchman Benjamin Bonzi — for a spot within the quarterfinals.

Djokovic and de Minaur have by no means met in skilled competitors and this primary conflict is about to be a blockbuster encounter, scheduled for primetime on Rod Laver Enviornment.

“Taking part in in entrance of you guys, I do not know what number of of you can be on my aspect. I do not assume too many,” Djokovic joked with the gang after his win over Dimitrov. “It may be a terrific ambiance, I am positive, and I look ahead to it.”

Why Novak Djokovic will win

Djokovic simply does not lose on Rod Laver Enviornment. Scratch that, he does not lose in Australia. The 35-year-old star has gained a staggering 37 consecutive singles matches on Australian soil, together with three straight Australian Open titles between 2019 and 2021.

He thrives within the circumstances and handles the stress higher than anybody else, which supplies him a substantial edge over de Minaur, who has performed simply 5 matches on middle courtroom at his residence Slam for a file of 3-2.

Regardless of the hamstring concern and enjoying nowhere close to his devastating finest, Djokovic has been in a position to elevate his play in key moments this event — an indicator of his profession. After France’s Enzo Couacaud leveled at one set apiece within the second spherical, Djokovic reeled off 12 of the following 14 video games to run away with the match.

Final day out in opposition to Dimitrov, Djokovic performed his finest tennis within the first set tie-breaker, earlier than capitalizing on a number of break level alternatives later within the match.

Djokovic may also make the most of De Minaur’s serve, which has let him down to this point this event. De Minaur wins few low cost factors with it, tallying simply 21 aces by means of his first three matches, and has solely managed to land his first serve 58% of the time. Injured or not, Djokovic will punish him if he does not enhance on this space.

And do not underestimate the psychological aspect of this match-up. It have to be demoralizing for any participant, not to mention these ranked within the prime 30, akin to Dimitrov, to throw all the pieces at him and nonetheless fail to win a set.

Upsets have been the norm at this 12 months’s Australian Open. May Alex de Minaur turn into the most recent to beat a higher-ranked participant? EPA/LUKAS COCH AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

Why Alex de Minaur will win

If Djokovic was in a position to draft a fourth-round opponent, de Minaur would seemingly be on the backside of his listing.

It is no secret Djokovic is not transferring as freely as he’d like or we have come to anticipate, so going through an opponent who he believes is “the quickest participant on the tour” will likely be a major take a look at for his physique.

De Minaur’s sport is not completely dissimilar to that of Djokovic, constructed on protection and the power to power his opponent to play shot after shot and discover a well past. He’s an especially disciplined participant who will not make many errors. Via his three matches, de Minaur’s opponents have made 49 extra unforced errors than him.

Djokovic is not hitting by means of the ball as rapidly this fortnight, which implies discovering winners in opposition to de Minaur will seemingly show to be a problem. If he begins to wrestle with the hamstring and appears to power the problem, it may play into the Australian’s fingers.

“I am simply going to need to take it to him and never shrink back from the event,” de Minaur stated forward of the showdown. “I am going to ensure I make it as powerful as I can. I am not going to learn an excessive amount of into that damage.”

As Djokovic eluded to following his win over Dimitrov, de Minaur can even have the gang firmly in his nook. The 23-year-old is the final remaining singles hope for the Australian contingent at this 12 months’s event.

What is going to occur?

Selecting in opposition to Djokovic in Melbourne, regardless of how injured he could also be, is a idiot’s errand. His profession file on the Australian Open is 85-8, highlighting simply how tough it has been to beat him on the blue plexicushion. De Minaur will not be straightforward, although, and is sweet sufficient to take a set off him. Djokovic to win in 4.

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