Alex de Minaur has hinted at some scepticism regarding the extent of Novak Djokovic's injured hamstring, after being blown off the court in the fourth-round matchup. The Australian hopeful entered the match against the nine-time Australian Open champion riding a wave of momentum, but it all came undone in a savage straight-sets defeat.
Many had considered de Minaur a strong outside chance against Djokovic, with the 35-year-old Serbian heading into the match seemingly hobbled by the injury after dropping a set in his second round matchup earlier in the tournament. But consecutive straight-sets wins, first over Grigor Dimitrov then his 6-2 6-1 6-2 demolition of de Minaur, have left some to ponder just how much pain Djokovic is actually in.
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By his own admission, Djokovic's recovery may have been helped by the limited amount of time he's had to spend on court in his previous two Australian Open matches. He said after the victory over de Minaur that he 'didn't feel anything' during the match, praising his medical team in the process.
Bruised after such a heavy defeat, de Minaur couldn't help but ponder the true status of Djokovic's hamstring. Asked by reporters after the match, the 23-year-old said he simply hadn't been good enough to compete - albeit with a knowing grin.
“I don’t know. You tell me how you thought he looked out there,” he said. "Playing him, I thought he was moving pretty well, so... I don’t know.
“Look, I don’t know. I think everyone’s kind of seeing what’s been happening over the couple of weeks. It’s the only thing everyone’s been talking about.
“Today I was out there on court against him. Either I’m not a good enough tennis player to expose that, or... it looked good to me. He was just too good in all aspects.”
Djokovic was memorably accused of playing possum with an injury by Andy Murray at the Australian Open, however in this case the Serbian champion credited his team for their work. He added that he hadn't forgotten de Minaur's comments last year about his deportation from Australia, in which the 23-year-old said the saga was simply a result of his decision to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I cannot say I’m sorry that you haven’t watched the longer match to be honest. I really wanted to win straight sets,” he said.
“Obviously you never know what is going to happen on the court. Once you’re on the court obviously you’ve got to deal with a lot of things that are on and off the court … I felt maybe he was a bit more nervous towards the end of the second and beginning of the first. I felt like it’s my opportunity to try to capitalise on those chances.
“I respect him as a rival, a colleague, as I respect everyone. I have no problem contacting him, congratulating him, etc. But I don’t have any other relationship. I don’t have any communication with him. He showed in 2022 what he thinks about me.”
Novak Djokovic hails recovery efforts after de Minaur demolition
Djokovic said an 'exhausting' amount of work was going in to try and help him recover as quickly as possible.
“We take it day by day. We do a lot of things actually. It’s been honestly exhausting to be involved in a lot of different treatments and machines and stuff that we do,” he said.
“At the same time it was necessary. It is necessary in order to get myself in a condition to play. So I’m really glad that my body has responded really well.
“Tonight I didn’t feel any pain. I moved as well as I have the whole tournament. It means we are progressing in the right direction.”
The emphatic defeat not only abruptly ended de Minaur's pipe dream of breaking Australia's 47-year men's singles title drought in Melbourne but also served as another sobering grand slam reality check for the one-time US Open quarter-finalist. While disappointed not to have offered fans on RLA anything to really cheer for, de Minaur hailed the Monday night version of Djokovic as the best opponent he had ever faced.
"There's lots of things to improve for me if I want to take the next step," de Minaur said. "I want to do better than fourth round at a slam. It's great, I'm happy, but I'm not content. I want more.
"I want to be in quarter-finals, be in the semi-finals, really go deep. This will add fuel to the fire. I'll get my head down. I'll speak to my team and work on the things I need to work on to take the next step because this is not where I want my goals to be, making fourth rounds of slams."
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