Despite “suffering” and not having “an enjoyable match”, world number 1 and ten time Australian Open champion, Novak Djokovic has prevailed over a valiant Taylor Fritz, 7-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, in a high quality affair at Rod Laver Arena.
In a scheduling nightmare following a three-hour marathon between American teen star, Coco Gauff and Ukrainian, Marta Kostyuk, the second day match at RLA didn’t kick off until 4:30pm.
Questioned about the scheduling after the match, Djokovic was honest but diplomatic about his answer.
“I mean, it’s really up to grand slams and our respective tours to think about the ways to accommodate both male and female players in a proper way so we have no late finishes.”
Mentioning the “economical value” of “TV broadcasting” and the “sponsors”, Djokovic said there were conflicting factors which makes scheduling difficult.
And after a 16-minute opening game, the signs were ominous of another long match.
Djokovic forced the issue but Fritz was equal to the task, producing some huge shots and big serves to hang in there by the skin of his teeth.
Surviving eight break points, including a 0-40 in his second service game, Fritz held on to force a tie-break without really troubling Djokovic on serve, despite the Serbian’s uncharacteristically low 48% first serve percentage.
A classic Djokovic tie-break ensued, as he closed out the set in dominant fashion, which lasted just under 90 minutes.
To lighten the mood, the Serb even blew a kiss at one point to Nick Krygios in a courtside bunker, as the injured Aussie sat commentating alongside the McEnroe brothers for ESPN.
Finally rewarded for his efforts, Fritz broke the Serb early in the second set, as the American continued to save break points with clutch first serves and big groundstrokes.
The 12th seed finally served out the set, prolonging the night session further, as impatient ticket holders crowded outside.
A game earlier, Djokovic also hit one of the best shots of the tournament so far: a casual forehand volley winner from the baseline off a huge Fritz forehand return.
As he so often does after losing a set, the 24-time grand slam champion lifted his level in the third, tightening the screws and applying immense pressure on the Fritz serve, without facing any break points.
Lifting his first serve percentage and hitting with precision, Djokovic gradually ground Fritz down, finally breaking the American on the sixteenth attempt, which is one record the Serbian was probably not chasing.
As Fritz’s level dipped ever so slightly, Djokovic took full advantage, breaking the American a second time to seal the set.
Barely missing a first serve since the start of the third set, Novak continued to pile on the pressure in the fourth.
Fritz continued to battle hard but the pressure took its toll, with Djokovic finally breaking the American in the sixth game.
Despite breaking back the very next game, Fritz was broken to love the following game before the world number 1 finally served out the match.
In a surprise twist that delighted the crowd, Nick Krygios was invited on to the court to interview the Serbian superstar.
“I never thought I’d be here doing this on court interview,” smiled the mercurial Krygios.
In a light-hearted interview, Djokovic sung Fritz’s praises, compared his lack of break point conversions to playing Krygios and discussed a special tree at the Royal Botannical Gardens in St Kilda.
Facing either Jannik Sinner or Andrey Rublev in the semi-final, Djokovic said he was looking forward to the match, inviting Krygios to a bro hang out of sorts.
“Let’s get some popcorn, you and I. We chill and we enjoy the match, enjoy them play.”