Djokovic Downs Shapovalov To Guarantee No. 1 Spot
The Serbian appeared to be sailing into the fourth round against #NextGenATP Canadian Denis Shapovalov, but dropped five straight games from 4-1 in the third set before securing a 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 victory against the big-hitting lefty. Djokovic advanced to the Round of 16 for the 12th time, and he'll face Russian Daniil Medvedev for a place in the quarter-finals.
"Other than the little letdown that I had when I was 4-1 up in the third set, I thought I played well, especially in the fourth set," said Djokovic. "I expected Denis to come out and be aggressive... I just stayed solid from back of the court, served well and played the right shots."
The 31-year-old is going for history this fortnight. He and Federer share the Open Era record for the most Australian Open titles (six).
There was chatter of Shapovalov potentially giving Djokovic a scare on Rod Laver Arena, especially after the 19-year-old Canadian took the third set in dramatic fashion. But 14-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic squashed those thoughts from the start of the fourth set.
Shapovalov was crippled by nerves in the beginning. Djokovic led by a double break after only five games, thanks, in part, to Shapovalov's 12 unforced errors. The Canadian settled in before the set ended, but his go-for-it-all game didn't phase Djokovic, who broke once more to finish the first.
The Serbian didn't reach his apex in the second, landing only 42 per cent of his first serves. But he was never threatened with the ball on his racquet; Shapovalov didn't see a break point after the first set. In the third, the World No. 1 led 4-1, but then lost his way, double faulting to lose his serve at 4-4. Shapovalov then found his way back into the match, winning his fifth game in a row after converting his third set point with a forehand to the open court.
"For the first two sets, I just had things under control," said Djokovic. "At 4-1 [in the third set], I was agitated. It should not happen to me. I know better. I have experience. But it does happen, I guess. I allowed him to come back to the match.
But the six-time champion reset in the fourth set, re-establishing his dominance over the #NextGenATP Canadian. Djokovic won 89 per cent of second-serve return points (8/9) in the fourth set to clinch three service breaks and move into the fourth round.
"He's really solid," said Shapovalov. "But I had my chances, definitely... He started the fourth set really well. After that it was a little bit tough. The balls rolled. He was really taking advantage. He played a really good fourth set."
Djokovic guarantees he'll stay No. 1 on 28 January, when the new ATP Rankings are released. If he had failed to make the fourth round and Rafael Nadal had won the tournament, the Spaniard would have returned to the top spot.
"It was important to start off the fourth set well. It was close [in the] first two games. Making that break was crucial for me. But I like the fact that I was tested, as well, because you want to be tested, especially as you are improving, going along in the tournament."
Medvedev completed a perfect sweep through the first three rounds, winning his third straight-sets match 6-2, 7-6(3), 6-3 against 21st seed David Goffin. “I think was playing quite good today,” Medvedev said.
The 22-year-old advanced to his first fourth round at a Grand Slam in Australia, the same place where it all began for him last year. “I love Australia,” he said.
Watch: Medvedev Celebrates Maiden Title In Sydney
Medvedev was ranked No. 84 when he captured his first tour-level title at the Sydney International 12 months ago. He followed that title with two more – Winston-Salem Open and the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships – to go 3-0 in finals.
Now he's looking to do more damage on the biggest stage in tennis. Djokovic leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 2-0, both coming in 2017.