Novak Djokovic showed his battling qualities once more on Sunday and remains on course for a ninth Australian Open title. The defending champion defeated Canadian 14th seed Milos Raonic to set up a quarter-final tie with Alexander Zverev despite the fact he isn’t firing on all cylinders.
Djokovic, who clinched his first Oz Grand Slam in 2008, has admitted concern that he could ‘cause more damage’ to an abdominal injury he picked up in the Third round victory over Taylor Fritz. Having suffered a tear, he has spent two days using “different treatments with different devices”, including painkillers, to improve the issue.
Despite the setback, it showed the 33-year-old’s incredible durability and will to win as victory over Raonic was the 300th of his career and he became only the second player to reach the tally after Roger Federer, who has 362 triumphs to his name. Ticking off new milestones as he goes, Djokovic is determined to keep going but knows there is a risk.
“It’s kind of a gamble,” Djokovic said of continuing this week as he sets his sights on Australian Open glory. “I mean, that’s what the medical team told me. It’s really unpredictable, you can’t know what’s going to happen with you once you’re on the court. You’re not gonna save yourself or think about going for that point or this shot or that shot. It just pulls you. It’s normal. Playing at this level, you just want to give it all.
“It could cause much more damage than it is at the moment, but it also could go in a good direction. So that’s something that I don’t know, and I don’t think I will also know until I stop taking painkillers. As long as I’m with a high dose of painkillers, I guess, you know, I still can bear some of the pain.”
While he and his team will monitor his progress, clinching a record-extending ninth title in Australia would put Djokovic on the road to redemption following a challenging year in which some decisions tarnished his image for some. The Serbian superstar tested positive for COVID-19 in June and faced criticism after it came days after he hosted a number of players in the Adria Tour exhibition tournament, with a lack of social-distancing regulations, in the Balkan region. He was also left red-faced and disqualified from the US Open after whacking a ball away which inadvertently hit a line judge in the throat. Djokovic’s legion of supporters will be hopeful he can remain fit to start 2021 on a more positive note.
"If it's any other tournament than a Grand Slam, I would withdraw from the event, that's for sure,” he admitted. Clinching victory while battling injury will be an inspiration to many while writing another page in tennis history will only cement his standing as a great no matter what happened in the twelve months previously.
Elsewhere in the men’s last eight, second seed Rafael Nadal will face Stefanos Tsitsipas, Russian Andrey Rublev will take on compatriot Daniil Medvedev and Grigor Dimitrov will meet Aslan Karatsev.