Novak Djokovic is starting to feel better about his health and his game, winning in straight sets Friday for the first time this tournament with a 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (2) victory over Tomas Martin Etcheverry in his 100th Australian Open match.
The 24-time major winner is 92-8 at Melbourne Park, where he has won the title 10 times and is on a 31-match winning streak.
Djokovic has had health issues and been dealing with a sore right wrist. He lost sets in each of the first two rounds against 18-year-old Croatian qualifier Dino Prizmic and Alexei Popyrin, when he challenged a heckler to “say that to my face.”
“I played better than I did in the first two rounds, so that’s a positive change, I guess.” Djokovic said. “Starting to feel better game-wise and physically as well. It’s positive signs, [but] I still haven’t been playing at my best.”
Against Etcheverry, he didn’t even face a break point.
Not that No. 30 seed didn’t challenge him, really going for his groundstrokes and chasing down drop shots — to the point where he had to veer off court to avoid the net in the third set and nearly crashed into the umpire’s chair.
Djokovic, as he got closer to victory, started to put his index finger to his ear after hitting winners, bringing more support and noise from the Rod Laver Arena crowd.
After closing with a pair of aces to move into the fourth round here for the 16th time, his celebration was calm.
“It was a great match,” Djokovic said. “The best performance I had during this tournament. I’m pleased with the way I played, particularly the first two sets.
“He raised his level in the third set, [and] we went toe-to-toe.”
Djokovic took to the court when the match between left-handers Mannarino and Shelton was going into the second set. He was in a postmatch news conference when the result of that match was relayed to him. Noted.
Djokovic beat Shelton in the US Open semifinals one match before capturing his record 24th Grand Slam singles title, and there was tension in the wake of it. Djokovic copied Shelton’s “Hang up the phone!” celebration gesture after that win, and comments in the French media earlier this week confirmed he did mock it…