Novak Djokovic makes light work of rare day slot after Alex de Minaur bump | Australian Open 2024

Australian Open 2024

  • Champion beats Adrian Mannarino 6-0, 6-0, 6-3
  • Australian to take on Andrey Rublev in prime time

Australian Associated Press

Sun 21 Jan 2024 05.42 CET

Alex De Minaur’s star is so much on the rise he bumped Novak Djokovic to a rare day slot on Rod Laver Arena, though the unusual timing did nothing to affect the champion’s form as he completed an ominously emphatic fourth-round win.

Australian Open organisers scheduled de Minaur’s fourth-round showdown against Russian fifth seed Andrey Rublev for the prime-time night session on Sunday which meant Djokovic played Adrian Mannarino in the early afternoon.

It was the first time the 10-time champion had played a day game since 2021, ending a run of 15 straight evening matches, and he might just have taken it personally given how merciless he was in eliminating Mannarino in straight sets, winning 6-0, 6-0, 6-3.

“It’s no secret I love to play at 7pm,” Djokovic said after the one-hour, 44-minute demolition. “But it wasn’t bad at all today. The way I played today, I don’t mind playing in the day.”

Even at 6-0, 2-0 up, Djokovic fought tooth and nail not to drop a game to the Frenchman, fist-pumping feverishly after saving break point, then celebrating almost as if he’d won the title after holding for a 3-0 advantage.

It was bizarre behaviour, to say the least, but emphasised the world No 1’s insatiable appetite to gobble up Margaret Court’s record and capture an unprecedented 25th grand slam singles crown next Sunday.

Novak Djokovic reacts after a point against Adrian Mannarino during their Australian Open fourth-round match at Rod Laver Arena. Photograph: Martin Keep/AFP/Getty Images

Even if he doesn’t, the 36-year-old seems to be setting records every time he steps on court these days. Sunday’s victory vaulted the top seed into an astonishing 58th grand slam-quarter-final, matching the feat of his long-time contemporary and now retired great Roger Federer.

Despite the crushing win, it wasn’t all smooth going for Djokovic, who coughed and spluttered throughout. The 24-time major winner said he’d been ill during the first week, but Rod Laver – the legend whose name is on the centre-court arena that Djokovic has made his own – on Saturday posed the question: “Is he having us on?”.

He now has a last-eight date on Tuesday with world No 12 Taylor Fritz after the American beat last year’s defeated finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6 (7-3), 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.

“You always want to be efficient,” Djokovic said after his win. “You always want to finish the job as soon as possible in a straight set. It’s not always possible because obviously you’re playing, as the tournament progresses, tougher opponents.

“But I wasn’t thinking about it. I was kind of going with the flow and the last couple of days has been really good. It’s going in a positive direction, health wise, tennis wise, so I’m really pleased with where I am at the moment.”

Alex de Minaur practices ahead of his fourth round match at the Australian Open. Photograph: Maya Thompson/Getty Images

Later on Sunday De Minaur, who has entered his home grand slam in career-best form, will relish the opportunity to play in front of a huge crowd on the show court.

“I would love to play on RLA,” the 24-year-old said before the Sunday schedule was confirmed. “That prime-time slot is pretty special, and you’ve got to earn it. But ultimately it doesn’t really matter when I play; whether I play first match, whether I play last. Whether I play on RLA or court 27, I’m still going to be the same.”

World No 10 de Minaur will take the confidence of a 3-2 winning record against Rublev into his last-16 match. A fourth victory over the Russian would propel de Minaur into a quarter-final against either the fourth-seeded Sinner or world No 15 Karen Khachanov.

De Minaur has only reached the final eight once in a major – at the 2020 US Open when he bowed out to eventual champion Dominic Thiem. After crashing out in the fourth round at the past two Australian Opens, de Minaur is primed to finally make it to the quarter-finals of his home grand slam.

“I’ll try to get a little bit better and beat my personal best, get to a quarter-finals. That’s the first step,” he said. “I’ve made a couple of fourth rounds in the past. I maybe have gotten to that point and not played the type of match I wanted to. I’m hoping I can break that barrier and go one further.”

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