Novak Djokovic’s straight-sets victory against Alex de Minaur on Monday answered some big questions regarding the Serb’s 2023 Australian Open title bid. Not just for those who watched as he dismantled the home favorite at the Rod Laver Arena, but for the nine-time champion himself.
“A week ago I wasn’t really thinking about the title, I just thought I would be in good shape to play the next game,” Djokovic acknowledged after beating De Minaur 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 in two hours and six minutes. “See you tonight. Tonight, the way I played, the way I felt, now gives me reason to believe that I can give it all.
Djokovic suffered a left hamstring injury on his way to clinching his 92nd tour-level title at the Adelaide International 1 earlier this month, and it appeared to be bothering him on several occasions during the first three rounds at Melbourne Park. That was not the case against De Minaur on Monday, when he moved with freedom during his imperious victory.
“I always believe that I can push myself to the limit in my tennis,” said the nine-time Australian Open title holder. “But the way my leg felt before tonight didn’t give me too much hope, so to speak, for the whole tournament, to go all the way through. Tonight I feel that, so I feel positive about it.
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Djokovic delivered an almost flawless performance at the Rod Laver Arena, with De Minaur later calling it “Novak very close to his best.” The 35-year-old, who will return to number 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings if he lifts the trophy in Melbourne, was hesitant to get too carried away with his performance but acknowledged it as his best of a 2023 season in which he now has a 9-0 record.
“I do not know [if it was the best] ever, but definitely the best tennis I’ve played this year, this tournament, so far this season,” said Djokovic. “[The] Best match. I am very happy, because as the tournament progresses, the matches naturally become more difficult. I am very happy that I was able to win like I did tonight.”
Djokovic has by far the most Grand Slam experience of the eight remaining players in the Melbourne Park draw. Other than the Serb, only 2021 Roland Garros finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas has reached the championship game at a major, while Karen Khachanov is the only other player to have reached a semifinal. Still, the fourth seed is not taking anything for granted as he attempts to tie Rafael Nadal’s record 22 Grand Slam titles.
“Of course I am the only man left in the tournament who has won a Grand Slam [that] flatters me, but I don’t think it will make a big difference, to be honest,” said Djokovic. “Maybe it will be for me to some extent, but maybe not for the other guys.
“For example, I know Tsitsipas, probably the most experienced man of them all… He is someone who seems ready to go for the title, and the way he plays is getting closer and closer.
“But you have the other guys, some young American guys, who are doing extremely well at this tournament. Everything is possible, I think. We will just have to take it day by day.”