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Novak Djokovic says injury might force him out of Australian Open

Novak Djokovic grimaces on court
Novak Djokovic grimaces during his third-round win over Taylor Fritz at the Australian Open on Friday.
(Andy Brownbill / Associated Press)

Novak Djokovic said he tore a muscle during a fall in his five-set victory in the Australian Open’s third round and might need to pull out of the tournament.

His opponent, American Taylor Fritz, wasn’t so sure. He figured Djokovic definitely will be back Sunday to continue his pursuit of a ninth championship at Melbourne Park and 18th Grand Slam title overall.

“If he can play like he played in the fifth, I don’t see why he wouldn’t play,” Fritz said. “He’ll beat pretty much anyone.”

The No. 1-ranked Djokovic seemed to be cruising along with a two-set lead Friday night when his left foot slipped as he tried to change directions and he slipped awkwardly and fell. He took a medical timeout for treatment on his side and later was helped more by a trainer. Fritz got back into the match, before Djokovic eventually won 7-6 (1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2.

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When it ended, Djokovic puffed his chest, held his arms out wide and bellowed, his voice echoing through an empty and otherwise silent Rod Laver Arena. The match began with spectators present, but they were forced to leave a little past 11:30 p.m. — about an hour before Djokovic wrapped up his win — because a local COVID-19 lockdown began at midnight.

Serena Williams overcame erratic strokes and two set points to beat Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (5), 6-2 to reach the fourth round at the Australian Open.

During an on-court interview, he was subdued.

And pessimistic.

“I know it’s a tear, definitely, of the muscle. So I don’t know if I’ll manage to recover from that in less than two days. ... I don’t know if I’m going to step out onto the court or not,” said Djokovic, who is supposed to face 2016 Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic with a quarterfinal berth on the line.

“I am just very proud of this achievement tonight,” Djokovic said. “Let’s see what happens tomorrow.”

The only man in the draw with more Grand Slam trophies than Djokovic, No. 2 Rafael Nadal, has been complaining about a bad back since last week. Nadal’s bid for his men’s-record 21st major title — breaking a tie with Roger Federer — continues Saturday in the third round against Cameron Norrie.

Others in third-round action Saturday include No. 4 Daniil Medvedev, No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 7 Andrey Rublev, No. 9 Matteo Berrettini and the last American man in the tournament, unseeded McKenzie McDonald.

In addition to Djokovic-Raonic, the fourth-round matchups slated for Sunday are No. 3 Dominic Thiem vs. No. 18 Grigor Dimitrov, No. 6 Alexander Zverev vs. No. 23 Dusan Lajovic, and No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime vs. Aslan Karatsev, a Russian qualifier who is ranked 114th and making his Grand Slam debut.

On Friday, Djokovic’s match was halted for about 10 minutes while the crowd was cleared out, which bothered Fritz.

“I mean, to be honest — like, completely honest — it’s absolutely ridiculous that at a Grand Slam match, we’re asked to leave the court for 10 minutes in the middle of the match,” said Fritz, a 23-year-old from California who was seeded 27th. “That shouldn’t be a thing at a Grand Slam. We shouldn’t have played tonight if we weren’t going to finish the match on time.”

No fans will be allowed at the tournament for at least five days.


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