MELBOURNE: Champion Novak Djokovic put down the threat of a French revolution at Melbourne Park by fending off Gilles Simon 6-3 6-7(1) 6-4 4-6 6-3 to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open on Sunday.
Having hurtled into the match without dropping a set, Djokovic found a brick wall in the form of the 14th seed Simon whose dogged scrambling frustrated the Serb for much of the four-hour 32-minute clash at Rod Laver Arena.
The world number one racked up a most un-Djokovic-like total of 100 unforced errors and brought the fifth set largely upon himself with a string of botched drop-shots.
But the Serb’s iron-willed composure returned quickly in the decider as he broke Simon early and motored to a 5-1 lead.
Simon rallied with a final flourish, regaining a service break and saved two match points before holding to raise thunderous cheers from a raucous crowd firmly in his corner.
But after raising a third match point with an ace, Djokovic sealed the match with an imperious backhand down the line and after shaking hands with his opponent, was glad to slump into his chair.
“Playing against a player like Gilles you can expect a lot of rallies, he’s always making you play an extra shot,” the Serb said.
“He was fighting, he was playing well, it was physically very demanding and I’m just very glad to get through this one.
“He’s a counter-puncher, probably one of the best if not the best on tour … credit and congratulations to him for a great fight and I wish him all the best.”
Djokovic, who booked his 27th successive quarter-final at the grand slams, will now meet seventh seeded Japanese Kei Nishikori, the man who beat him in the 2014 U.S. Open semi-finals.
“We’ve played many times in the big tournaments. I lost to him in the semi-finals of the U.S. Open so I hope I’ll be able to decrease my unforced error stat … and do my best in that one.”