Thanks for visiting the Australian Open Website. We can see you’re using Internet Explorer, and wanted to let you know that we will no longer be supporting this browser in future. We’d recommend you download a new browser if you'd like to continue keeping up with all of the latest tennis news!

Report: Djokovic digs in to deny Dimitrov

  • Ravi Ubha

Men's singles third round

The opening set between Novak Djokovic and Grigor Dimitrov lit up the Saturday night sky – and it was the habitual Australian Open winner who claimed it on the way to a bruising 7-6(7) 6-3 6-4 third-round win over his good pal in Melbourne. 

MORE: All the scores from Day 6 at AO 2023

Djokovic improved to 10-1 against the Bulgarian, who might rue his three untaken set points in the first. That said, Djokovic played the trio of points exceedingly well. 

The build-up

Djokovic's left hamstring injury continued to take much of the pre-match focus, especially since he required a medical timeout in the second round against qualifier Enzo Couacaud and said post-match he "worried" about his hamstring. 

"There's two choices – leave it or keep going," he said on Thursday. "So I'm going to keep going. I'm going to try to play and compete with, of course, a great player, Dimitrov."

Dimitrov is, of course, a player who is no stranger to making his opponents work for long stretches. 

The 27th seed achieved one of his three semifinals at a major in Melbourne in 2017 and once there, extended Rafael Nadal to four hours, 56 minutes. 

Dimitrov has a history of beating some of tennis' biggest names on big stages, including Roger Federer and Andy Murray. 

He beat another Serb, Laslo Djere, in the second round after dispatching Aslan Karatsev in the first. Karatsev upended Dimitrov in the quarterfinals in 2021 during his surprise foray to the semifinals. 

Story of the match

Djokovic sported strapping to the hamstring once again, though on this occasion it hid slightly more under his shorts. He still wasn't sprinting full out into the corners consistently. 

It was Dimitrov who endured the worst possible start, broken immediately. 

Djokovic employed a similar pattern to their past duels, going hard to the Dimitrov backhand to either draw an error or set up the rally in his favour. 

He routinely went deep into his opponent's service games while uncorking a sizzling forehand winner around the net post, too, in the sixth game. Dimitrov hung on, saving three set points at 3-5 to spark a turnaround. 

Not facing a break point previously, Djokovic relinquished serve at 5-4 as Dimitrov found several Iines. Djokovic then saved two set points – on an ace and body serve – at 5-6 and rode the momentum to a 5-2 advantage in the tiebreak. 

Djokovic outlasted Dimitrov in an opening set that tested his ailing hamstring (Getty Images)

Dimitrov wasn't done, however. From 5-5, they took turns crushing big first serves, following up with forehands when needed. 

It changed at 7-7 as Dimitrov's fine defence on a 23-shot rally ended with a backhand into the net. An 18-shot rally wrapped up the 80-minute set, with Djokovic putting away a forehand volley, before falling to the court to seemingly lighten the load on his hamstring. 

He subsequently took a medical timeout, no light-hearted matter, but could only smile after needing four smashes on a single point to thwart Dimitrov in the first game of the second. 

An acrobatic backhand overhead from Dimitrov helped him to hold for 2-2, but Djokovic took control of the encounter by breaking for 4-2. 

He was, floored, however, after losing a 28-shot rally at 4-1 in the third, double faulting on the next point to drop serve. 

Winning a 31-shot rally in the last game, Djokovic – and Dimitrov – whipped up the crowd. On the next point, Dimitrov's forehand sailed wide to end the three-hour, seven-minute contest. 

"I think the turning point, so to speak for both players, was right from the blocks, the very first game," Djokovic said on court post-match. 

"An early break was important for me. I didn't know how I was going to feel physically. I was kind of going up and down. 

"Up to the very last shot I didn't know whether I was going to prevail," he added. "It was an incredible battle, three sets, over three hours. Let's rest up and prepare for the next one." 

Key stats

Dimitrov struck 53 winners, but also made 50 unforced errors. 

Meanwhile, Djokovic landed in the fourth round at the Australian Open for the 15th time to equal Nadal, the defending champion who exited earlier this week. In the Open era that began in 1968, only Federer has appeared in the last 16 more times in the men's game – 18. 

What this means for Djokovic

Djokovic plays the last remaining Australian in singles, Alex de Minaur, in the fourth round in what will be a first meeting. 

MORE: AO 2023 men's singles draw

The "Big Three" have traditionally gotten the better of locals at Melbourne Park, so De Minaur has a tough task. 

How tough? The lone Australian to beat Federer, Djokovic or Nadal at the Australian Open is Lleyton Hewitt, who overcame the latter in both 2004 and 2005. 

Djokovic will meet De Minaur for the first time in the last 16 (Getty Images)

"He's one of the quickest players on the tour, probably the quickest guy," said Djokovic. "He has improved a lot. He has Lleyton in his corner. That's a great team. 

"So playing in front of you guys, I don't know how many of you will be on my side. I don't think too many but let's see obviously," he laughed. "It's going to be a great atmosphere, I'm sure."

What's next for Dimitrov?

Exhibiting his consistency at the top of the game, Dimitrov has finished inside the top 30 for 10 consecutive seasons.

Dimitrov's unforced error count cost him dearly (Getty Images)

Going forward in 2023, he might have his eyes set on a return to the winners' circle. His last title came in 2017 – which happened to be the year-end ATP Finals.