Novak Djokovic got away by the skin of his teeth at the Australian Open Sunday night. The world ranked number one player couldn’t keep France’s Gilles Simon inside a straight set victory, but rather played a drawn out match to win 6-3, 6-7(1), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 at Rod Laver Arena in the fourth round at Melbourne Park.
The Frenchman hasn’t seen a victory against the number one ranked Serb in eight years, and its likely he wont see one in their 11th meeting together. Though they have only met once in the last year, the impression that Djokovic leaves with his opponents is unforgettable and unavoidable. The Serbian took care of Andreas Seppi in straight sets to cruise his way toward a repeat finals appearance and possible championship.
With no more than three sets to beat Simon, its favorable that the 28 year old who still sits atop of the men’s side of the sport will add a tenth win and appearance into the quarterfinals.
Djokovic served up the first game where he performed a perfect love service against Simon to lead off the bat. The 16th ranked Frenchman kept the hold of serve alive despite playing against the Serb on deuce where he kept things brief in the second to get the win. The Serb opened the gap with two games in a row before Simon was given a chance to strike. He pulled off another competition on deuce where after one break; he was back in a tie with the Serb.
Game seven became the longest of the set as Simon felt he was capable of breaking out of the tie before Djokovic could. The 31 year old got things even at 40 all on an unforced error by the Serb. It turned into a lengthy marathon of lead changes where six breaks went into the record books before Djokovic came out the winner. He gained an easy win in the eighth but had to put in plenty of effort to lock up the set.
Simon gave Djokovic another challenge on deuce where four breaks took center stage before the Serb acted on his power that caused Simon to commit a backhand error that put him down a set. Djokovic kept it two minutes short of an hour but knew that the pace set in the match would continue forward.
The second turned into a tug of war for the lead as Simon had a grip on his game while able to withstand his opponent’s attacks from across the court. By the time they approached the end of the set, the two were in a 5-5 draw making it the best man to reach seven for the first time in the match. Simon held in the 11th after coming back from 15-40 to get the one chance of pressuring the Serb.
Djokovic was back on serve and completed the set leveling back with Simon to move into a tiebreaker. What came next was a huge shocker to some as Djokovic lost control of the set. Simon had such a strong showing during the most critical part of the second set where he went up five straight points to win it 7-1. He became the first player in the tournament to win a set against Djokovic and earned his sixth set in their last ten matches combined.
While a loss wouldn’t take its toll on the match, Djokovic recomposed himself to move on from it and start the third set fresh. He got out to a 3-0 lead, but life returned to Simon through the next two games that had him within reach of a tie. He did get even and never let go through eight games where he once again threatened Djokovic of taking the lead on sets.
The Serb’s fortune turned for him in the ninth taking a much-needed win before locking down the set victory over Simon to lead 2-1. The set was the shortest so far as the world number one had his chance to end things quickly while he had plenty going his way.
Simon didn’t let him get into that groove after taking a 2-0 run. He came back with a huge response to knock Djokovic down a notch bringing him closer to his level. The Frenchman still kept things on with the Serb where after a 4-4 tie, Simon picked up the next two wins that sent things to a deciding fifth set leaving the Serb in a dangerous spot.
3 hours and 40 minutes of tennis had already been played by the two individuals in what was still not concluded until another set of games were fought over. For Djokovic, it put him on the spot for the first time in the tournament that his game had to improve or face a shocking upset.
The games started the go by quickly as Djokovic set the pace forcing Simon to play on. After a tie through six, the Serb began to see the homestretch where he put things into high gear. The world number one sped through the last three wins for himself to put a cap on a four hour and twenty-one minute marathon. “Playing against a player like Gilles you can always expect a lot of rallies, he’s always going to make you play an extra shot,” Djokovic said after the match. “I’m just glad to et through this one.”
Things wouldn’t get easier for him in the quarterfinals as he’ll face Japanese superstar and seventh seeded Kei Nishikori in a Tuesday night rumble expected to follow a similar path.