NOVAK Djokovic laughed off suggestions that he became embroiled in ‘exhibition tennis’ before seeing off Radek Stepanek at the Australian Open yesterday.
Stepanek’s quirky game and Djokovic’s all-round brilliance produced an entertaining encounter on Rod Laver Arena with numerous compelling rallies to thrill the crowd.
The world No 1 eventually came through 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 as he moved on to a fourth-round meeting with Stanislas Wawrinka, a straight-sets winner against Sam Querrey. And while he enjoyed the nature of the match, Djokovic insisted it did not distract him from the ultimate aim.
“It’s the third round of a grand slam, I think that says enough,” he said. “Both of us wanted to win the match and even though we enjoyed it there is no exhibition here. You want to win on the court.”
Stepanek, seeded 31, provided Djokovic with his stiffest test of the tournament so far with his mix of charging the net – he moved forward 67 times in the two hour, 22 minute contest – and drop shots.
“I wasn’t expecting an easy match coming into the third round,” added Djokovic, who is hoping to become the first man in the Open era to win three successive Melbourne crowns. “He is top 30 in the world and has a lot of experience on the tour. He also loves the big stage, you saw how much fun he had.”
Eighth seed Janko Tipsarevic won through to a meeting with Nicolas Almagro after prevailing in another five-set thriller. The Serbian, who was taken all the way by Lukas Lacko on Wednesday, saw off Frenchman Julien Benneteau 3-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3. Spaniard Almagro beat Jerzy Janowicz 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/4), 6-1.
Kei Nishikori ended the run of Russian Evgeny Donskoy 7-6 (7/3), 6-2, 6-3 but Fernando Verdasco is out after going down in five sets to big-serving Kevin Anderson. The South African will next face fifth seed Tomas Berdych, who enjoyed a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over Jurgen Melzer.
Nishikori will play fourth seed David Ferrer after the Spaniard’s 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 win over Marcos Baghdatis “It’s going to be tough,” Ferrer said. “I lost a close game with him at the Olympics. He has good shots with great power.”