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‘Every season counts now’ says Djokovic as he makes Melbourne last 16

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An ailing Novak Djokovic said on Saturday every moment counts now as he is in the “final phase” of his career after beating Grigor Dimitrov to reach the round of 16 at the Australian Open.

The Serb had a titanic 77-minute first set before taming the Bulgarian 7-6 (9/7), 6-3, 6-4 at the Rod Laver Arena, twice needing treatment for a troublesome hamstring.

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He will face home hope Alex de Minor for a place in the quarter-finals after the 22nd seed defeated France’s Benjamin Bonzi in three sets.

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Djokovic’s daring win brought him closer to a 10th Australian Open title and a record 22 Grand Slam crowns.

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Another victory in Melbourne will also return him to the top spot in the world for the first time since June.

Now 35-year-old Djokovic said he savored every tournament more and more.

“Every season matters, I think, now that you’re getting into the last phase, the last quarter of your career,” he said.

“Obviously you start appreciating and appreciating each tournament more because you may not have much left in the tank.

“I am really lucky to do what I love, I love sports, I love to compete. Almost 20 years of professional sports have passed. I can’t be more grateful than I am.”

The win put Djokovic in the bottom 16 for the 15th time, but he was forced to work on it, especially as his left hamstring troubled him.

“The last few matches always start well, including this one, and then there is some movement, and then it gets even worse,” he said.

“Pills will work, some hot cream and all that. It works a little, then it doesn’t, then it works again. To be honest, it really is a roller coaster.

“I will take him match after match. I don’t know what awaits me, but I hope and believe in the best.”

Djokovic suffered a worsened hamstring during his run to his 92nd title at the Adelaide International this month and has struggled with it ever since.

Djokovic got excited

Djokovic entered the match without his usual off-day workout to give his leg as much recovery time as possible.

With a heavily bandaged left thigh, the Serb immediately broke down and consolidated to take an early tackle in the first set.

He was driving but appeared to have felt the injury as he moved to shoot at 5-3. He managed to score three set points which were saved but were then smashed in a 5-4 set serve.

Excited, he complained to the referee about being given a time violation and was then forced to keep his two set points ahead of an epic tiebreak.

He eventually broke the line on his fifth set point after some intense tennis.

Djokovic took a medical timeout on his shift and returned to turn up the pressure and take a break before comfortably finishing the second set.

When Dimitrov fell silent, he tightened the screws even more, breaking twice early in the third set.

Despite a hesitation in the middle of the set when the Bulgarian bounced back and then treated his leg, Djokovic fought to the finish line.

De Minaur, who is aiming for the first quarter-final at Melbourne Park, is now waiting for Djokovic after winning 7-6 (7/0), 6-2, 6-1.

“These are the matches you want to play,” the Australian said.



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