MELBOURNE: The nine-time champion Novak Djokovic on Thursday survived an injury scare to reach the third round of the Australian Open, beating Frenchman Enzo Couacaud here at Rod Laver Arena, here.
The 35-year-old, struggling with his left leg, edged past Couacaud 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-0 in three hours and four minutes. He will lock horns with former World No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov, who defeated Laslo Djere 6-3, 6-2, 6-0, in the third round.
The Serbian is chasing a record-tying 22nd Grand Slam trophy and reclaims No. 1 spot in the ATP Rankings if he wins the title.
As the second set wore on, Djokovic became hampered by his left hamstring injury. Playing with heavy strapping, the fourth seed blanched after stretching for a ball at 4-4, calling for a medical timeout when trailing 4-5.
His movement was clearly compromised and Couacaud took full advantage. When Djokovic let slip the second set in a tie-break, it was unclear how his body would react for the rest of the match. But the Serbian locked in and improved physically, winning 12 of the match's final 14 games.
"It is expected when you walk on the court as favourite and you play someone on this stage for the first time, of course they are going to go for their shots.You just accept it. I had many opportunities in the second to win it and I didn't. He pushed it to a third and fourth set and you just have to deal with it," Djokovic said after the match.
"Sometimes the situations don't go your way but that is sport. I have been in these situations before, so many times in my life and career, so I think that also helps, the experience of understanding what you need to do in the moment to give your best," he added.
Djokovic now holds a 7-0 record on the season, having captured his 92nd tour-level title in Adelaide earlier this month. It was at the ATP 250, where the Serb hurt his leg in the semifinals against Daniil Medvedev.