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Double dozen for Djokovic sets up Zverev clash

  • Alex Sharp

Defending Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic defied the pain barrier and a resolute Milos Raonic to post his 300th Grand Slam match victory on Sunday night.  

MORE: All the scores from Day 7 at AO 2021

The world No.1 had suffered an abdominal injury in the previous round, but used all his experience to prevail 7-6(4) 4-6 6-1 6-4 to remain unbeaten in 12 career meetings facing the 14th seed.  

Forever chasing history and records, Djokovic will next meet world No.7 Alexander Zverev in his 12th quarterfinal clash at Melbourne Park. 

“There was no preparation for this match, I used every hour from this last match to recover,” admitted the Serbian, chasing an unprecedented ninth Australian Open crown.  

“If it was any other tournament, other than a Grand Slam, I would have withdrawn. Because it’s a Grand Slam, I still want to do my best.  

“During the match it was on and off. It’s not ideal. I’m taking it day by day. I cannot complain, I won the match against a great player and hopefully it will be better in a couple of days.”  

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Djokovic was tested early, but left Raonic in his dust late

The Canadian pounded a 217km/h serve to open the bout, but Djokovic’s prowess on return was evident from the get-go.   

The world No.1 was able to cruise through service games with consummate ease. Whereas Raonic, boosted by some exceptional inside-out forehand winners, was forced to fend off a break point at 3-3 and 4-4.  

Turning defence into attack in a flash, chasing down a stop volley for a neat cutaway, Djokovic was still displaying his gobsmacking athleticism.   

Like so many of his previous 299 Grand Slam victories, the 17-time major winner was the personification of resilience, offering only a handful of errors. In a whistle, Djokovic amassed the pivotal points to strut to the changeover a set ahead.  

Ramping up the force on the groundstrokes, the Serbian was threatening to run away with it.  

However, Raonic has been as high as world No.3, a Wimbledon finalist in 2016. He responded immediately, finally earning his own break points at 3-2. The forehand in particular was blazing, arrowing his favoured shot down the line and cross court to punish a wayward Djokovic game.   

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Raonic's power came to the fore in the second set

A set apiece on the scoreboard, it appeared the night was young.  

Djokovic had other ideas. 

Raonic rattled his fastest serve of the battle at 223km/h, which was simply beamed back by the world No.1.   

Absorbing the power with aplomb, plenty of last-ditch pick-ups, it was too relentless for Raonic at 2-1. The 30-year-old overtwisted on wayward forehands, and Djokovic was back in command.   

It was becoming a clinic on return, the eight-time AO champion scorching successive forehand return winners past a perplexed Raonic.   

Just four unforced errors, it was an immaculate set.   

A hooked forehand cross court pass opened the door early on for Djokovic, but devastating deliveries kept the Canadian in contention.   

The 17-time Grand Slam champion connected with a sweet squash-like forehand, a return winner again, to set up the pivotal break, and quickly became just the second man behind Roger Federer to chalk up 300 major wins.   

“Sascha and I get along really well off the court. He’s a great guy. We joked yesterday, because we have similar injuries. He was saying maybe we will play without serves,” quipped the top seed, who edged the German 6-7(3) 6-2 7-5 earlier this month.  

“He’s one of the top men’s players in the past five years. He’s still young, has the experience and has big weapons. He’s got a very complete game. We had an exhausting match at ATP Cup. I’m expecting nothing less than the big battle like we had at ATP Cup. Let the better player win." 

Earlier on Sunday night, world No.7 Zverev dispatched Dusan Lajovic 6-4 7-6(5) 6-3, striking 15 aces and 44 winners in an authoritative display.  

“Today was a pretty good match. Very happy with a three set win. He was playing amazing tennis, it could have gone both ways in the first two,” stated Zverev, down 2-5 facing Djokovic.  

“You try to not focus on it all, but I know who I play and I know what happened the last time I faced Novak.  

“That is still in the back of my mind. Of course I want Novak healthy. To me, to go deep in Grand Slams, you have to beat the best players. It’s not going to be easy. I’m hoping for a good match.”