World No. 1 Novak Djokovic survived a nail-biting encounter on Sunday to keep alive his quest for a sixth title at the Australian Open.
Djokovic fought hard to beat No. 14 seed Gilles Simon 6-3, 6-7(1), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena to reach his 27th straight Grand Slam championship quarter-final. The streak equals Jimmy Connors’ mark for second place in the list of most consecutive last eight appearances at majors.
“I was obviously pleased to win the match,” said Djokovic. “But in terms of the performance itself, I haven’t done well at all. [You] can expect unforced errors when you’re playing Gilles Simon who is one of the best counter-punchers on the tour at the moment and he’s been around for many years… I honestly didn’t expect to make this many unforced errors. In terms of a level that I’ve played, it’s [a] match to forget for me.
“I have tremendous respect for his [Connors’] achievements and who he is, what he has done for this sport. He drew a lot of people to watch tennis, bringing a lot of energy on the court, a lot of charisma, just a lot of quality overall. To be able to be mentioned alongside such a legend of course is a privilege. The fact that I’ve played this many quarterfinals in a row definitely pleases me.”
Djokovic converted just six of his 25 break point opportunities and committed 100 unforced errors. He is now 10-1 lifetime against Simon in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.
Simon starved Djokovic of pace, especially early in the match, and camped out several feet behind the baseline, making it difficult for the Serbian to end points quickly. When Djokovic came to net, Simon produced some quality passes.
To take the pair’s 11th meeting to a deciding set, Simon got his first break of the fourth set on his seventh break point chance of the set at 4-4. The Frenchman was then unable to convert a 40/15 lead, but closed out on his fourth set point opportunity. By playing deep, Simon led Djokovic to try many drop shots… with little success.
“I think I lost the fourth set because I lost my calm,” said Simon. “At 4-4, 30/0, I just wasted that game with some unforced errors [and] handed him the set. After that, the set was gone. I had to just regroup and find that strength and find that focus that was necessary for me to win the match.
“It’s always a bad feeling when you lose in five,” said Simon. So many things could have been different… He put more on the ball. I think the conditions were getting slower also. He was hitting the ball harder. He took more risks and the balls were staying in. From 2-1, 40/0, I think he played only good shots until 5-1. He definitely played better in the end.”