Novak Djokovic secured his place in the quarter-finals of the 2021 Australian Open with his 300th Grand Slam win, despite coming into the match with Milos Raonic with major injury doubts.
The top seed and reigning champion suffered a minor setback in the second set when he appeared to be grimacing at times and ended up letting the big Canadian back into the match.
But it represented nothing but a passing blip for the Serb, who confirmed his presence in the second week at Melbourne Park with a ruthlessly efficient finish to the clash, which he wrapped up inside three hours, on Rod Laver Arena.
He said of his injury after the match: “If it’s any other tournament than a Grand Slam, I would withdraw from the event, for sure…I didn’t know before I finished my warm-up whether I’m going to play or not.”
He then added in an interview in the Cube: “There was a big cloud of doubt over whether I would play or not.
“But it’s a Grand Slam and for me at this stage of my career this means everything. There are four events a year that I give everything I have in me to compete. If it was any other tournament I’d probably not be playing.”
The relatively drama-free nature of Djokovic’s victory has to be regarded as somewhat of a surprise given he came into the match with such a cloud over his head having sustained what Eurosport’s Mats Wilander described as a “really bad” injury in the third round.
Raonic began the match with a number of thunderous serves and groundstrokes which prompted early concerns as to Djokovic’s physical robustness off the back of his abdominal issues.
But the world number one settled into the match fairly swiftly and ended up taking the opening set in clinical fashion via a tie-break in which he demonstrated impressive intensity.
The 14th seed from Canada did manage to get back on terms after taking the second set, and there were fleeting fears for his opponent’s condition, but it was Raonic who ended up having to receive medical treatment at the changeover.
The third set flew by, seemingly in an instant, as Djokovic conceded just a solitary game to reassert his authority on the match. He looked utterly dominant in the process.
The Serb put the hammer down in the ninth game of the fourth – and what proved to be final – set as he brought up three break points with inspired play from the back of the court. Raonic could only save two.
Djokovic duly closed out a match that must come as an enormous relief to him and his coaching team as he relied once more on his much-improved serve to shut his opponent out.
In the process of sealing victory, the defending champion set up a mouthwatering quarter-final clash against sixth seed Alexander Zverev, who continued his fine form so far in the tournament with a fine win over Dusan Lajovic.