Djokovic Storms Into Second Week
Novak Djokovic delivered a statement on Friday that he’s ready to grab an eighth Australian Open title. The second-seeded Serbian produced a flawless display to ease past Japanese Yoshihito Nishioka 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in their third-round clash.
The defending champion once again produced jaw-dropping serve stats. Djokovic hammered 17 aces and lost only eight points on serve (54/62) to make his 12th appearance in the second week in Melbourne.
”Definitely one of the best serving matches I’ve had lately [and] inspired by my coach, Goran Ivanisevic,” Djokovic said. “There are a lot of technical details you can talk about, but sometimes less is more. It’s all about the rhythm and balance… So far, it’s been working really well.”
"He's one of the quickest players on Tour," Djokovic said. "Hopefully my serve can be as good as it was today, or at least close, because then I feel that I have a pretty good chance. I've got to be patient, but still aggressive."
Djokovic dropped just three games against Nishioka in their only prior ATP Head2Head meeting. Nishioka wins many of his matches with relentless baseline retrieving, but quickly found on Rod Laver Arena that out-rallying the World No. 2 would be a difficult task.
Djokovic started the match by immediately breaking Nishioka in his opening service game and applying pressure on the Japanese. The Serbian imposed himself in almost all of his return games while taking care of his own serve with ease. Djokovic won all of his first-serve points (13/13) en route to grabbing the opening set.
The second set started identically to the first as Djokovic broke Nishioka right away. Unable to grind down Djokovic in rallies or overpower him, the Japanese grew visibly frustrated and began to leak errors. An uncharacteristic routine forehand miss from Nishioka at 4-2 gave Djokovic an insurance break and he went on to take a commanding lead.
Nishioka’s slumped shoulders throughout the third set indicated that he was losing steam. Djokovic raced through the closing stages of the match to prevail in one hour and 25 minutes. He finished the day with 40 winners to 23 unforced errors.
When Schwartzman and Lajovic faced off two years ago at this event, Schwartzman prevailed in an epic five-set battle. The No. 14 seed from Argentina was in no mood for another marathon in their rematch on Friday, saving three set points to book his place in the fourth round.
“I was so lucky at the end. Many times, I was not playing my best in the tie-break, but I’m happy to finish and go to the locker with the second week [result] here,” Schwartzman said in his on-court interview. “I think I was very solid, serving well, and trying to take every opportunity he gave me.”
Schwartzman didn’t drop a set in his first three rounds and conceded an average of nine games per match. On the two other occasions he’s made the second week at a Grand Slam without losing a set (2018 Roland Garros and 2019 US Open), he went on to reach the quarter-finals. But he knows that beating Djokovic will require him to be at his best.
“Nole is a big player, a legend of our sport," Schwartzman said. "I’m just thinking to recover well and be ready for Sunday.”
Both players arrived wearing identical kits, but a stark contrast in form was evident during the first two sets. Schwartzman scampered across the court to extend their baseline rallies, waited patiently and attacked when given the chance. The Serbian felt the pressure and frequently overcooked forehands, committing 25 unforced errors in the first two sets.
Lajovic adjusted his tactics in the third set, adding more margin to his shots and bringing Schwartzman forward. Meanwhile, the Argentine’s serve deserted him and he was broken three consecutive times to trail 2-4. But Schwartzman is known as a problem solver and dug deep to get the match back on serve, pumping his fist after the Serbian sent a forehand wide in the seventh game.
He solved more challenges in the tie-break, bravely rallying from 4/6 and saving a third set point at 6/7 when Lajovic missed a slice backhand. A gorgeous backhand volley winner brought Schwartzman to match point and a forehand error from the Serbian wrapped up play after two hours and 13 minutes.