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Men's Day 8 preview: Djokovic looks to deny De Minaur

  • Alex Sharp

Australian Open 2023 has turned the corner onto the finishing straight. Now, it's business time.

MORE: Day 8 schedule of play

Monday serves up four sizzling men's battles to complete the quarterfinal line-up. Here's what to expect. 

Alex de Minaur [22] v Novak Djokovic [4]

First meeting

In the majority of circumstances, Djokovic is seen as the crystal-clear favourite. But these are not usual circumstances.

MORE: AO 2023 men's singles draw

The 21-time Grand Slam champion is chasing an unprecedented 10th title at Melbourne Park. However, he has a fiercely-driven home hope and troublesome hamstring providing the obstacles.

"Of course, it's a big challenge of playing an Aussie guy here in front of his home crowd. I'm sure that the atmosphere will be electric, and he's going to have a lot of support, and he's going to be pumped to try to win the match," stated Djokovic. 

"But I've had experiences before. I played Lleyton Hewitt here. I played some big Aussie players, so I know how that feels.

"The fact that I never faced him is also challenging for both me and him. I've watched him play numerous times. I know how he plays. Let's see what happens."

For de Minaur, it's a simple game plan. The patriotic 23-year-old is going to leave it all out there.

"As a kid growing up, those are the stages you want to be playing on," stated the world No.24. 

De Minaur's first meeting with Djokovic comes on the biggest stage (Getty Images)

"I'm not going to read into too much of that injury. Ultimately, he's one of the best players in the world, and I'm just going to have to take it to him and not shy away from the occasion. 

"I'm going to make sure to make it as tough as I can, and just bring the recent experience I've had on court and how I've been feeling. I will get fired up, get the crowd behind me, and I'll definitely have a good time."

The injury 'Demon' references is the hamstring issue which has had Djokovic hunched over, wincing and taking multiple medical timeouts during this stint in Melbourne.

The 35-year-old has put in a gladiatorial effort so far, fending off opponents with such adversity. 

"It's really a rollercoaster," added Djokovic. 

"It requires a lot of energy that is being spent from my side mentally and physically. But it is what it is.

"The way it looked just before the tournament started, I thought that it wouldn't be possible. I'm still here and still holding on."

Djokovic struggled physically against Grigor Dimitrov, but still won in straight sets (Getty Images)

Djokovic without his aura, without his miraculous athleticism, could well be a leveller. A fired-up Australian, a fired-up crowd … this is going to be a must-watch match.

MORE: Women's Day 8 preview: Sabalenka, Bencic go head to head

Andrey Rublev [5] vs Holger Rune [9]

Head to head: 0-1

The fascinating battles keep on coming. Rublev has dusted off a disappointing double first round exit in Adelaide to launch into top form in Melbourne.

The 25-year-old has been in 'ruthless Rublev' mode, dismissing the high calibre of Dominic Thiem, Emil Ruusuvouri and Dan Evans by dropping one set.

Monday represents a step up. Rune became a household name in 2022 from his Grand Slam exploits and cracking the top 10 after lifting the Paris Masters trophy. During that title run, the Danish teenager took down Rublev in straight sets. 

"He's a young guy, super talented. He had nothing to lose because he was just going from underdog position all the time. But this year, we'll see," suggested Rublev

"It's going to be challenging for him, and I have nothing to lose against him next time, because he was the one who won our first match, so he will feel a bit pressure that he would like to win again."

Rune has his sights set on a second major quarterfinal (Getty Images)

Rublev as the underdog is a dangerous proposition. Rune already has the tools to take down anyone. This is a real 50-50.

Roberto Bautista Agut [24] v Tommy Paul 

Head to head: 3-1

Experience is the name of the game for 'RBA.' The Spaniard fended off a classic Andy Murray comeback to become the favourite to reach the semifinals from the bottom quarter.

Bautista Agut's record over the clean-striking Paul indicates the 34-year-old will progress, however the American youngster secured a 6-4 6-4 scoreline over the world No.25 last time out at the Paris Masters.

Who can send out a signal of intent to drive towards the semifinals?

Bautista Agut put the brakes on Murray's marathon run (Getty Images)
Ben Shelton v J.J. Wolf

First meeting

Forget any previous tournaments or records; this is about the here and now. What an opportunity for this American duo.

World No.89 Shelton, on his first trip outside the USA, has been relentless on serve and will need that weapon again to outmuscle the rocket-fuel game of world No.67 Wolf.

MORE: Shelton shaping up for shining career

With so much at stake, it will come down to who can manage the occasion, and who can play freely enough to replicate their current Melbourne Park form.