After suffering a scare in Melbourne, Novak Djokovic is a sure bet to make the Australian Open finals.
When Stanislas Wawrinka pushed the top-ranked men's tennis player to five sets and five hours of play, Djoker appeared beatable for the first time in the tournament. He ultimately put away the 17th-ranked Wawrinka, but the final score of 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7, 12-10 seemed to say more about Djokovic's vulnerability than his opponent's strength.
On the hard courts of Melbourne, under the unforgiving sun of the Australian summer, endurance is key. While Djokovic has had to work as hard as any player in the field to reach the quarterfinals, he is also the best equipped man for this sort of marathon play.
Per Kamakshi Tandon of ESPN, Djokovic is looking back on his 2012 Australian Open triumph to put these most recent tribulations in perspective:
But still, I've been in those situations before.
I won against Murray in the semis after five hours, and then played against [Rafael Nadal] almost six hours.
I know I can recover. I know I have it in me.
Playing to the brink against Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal is a much tougher task than doing so against Stanislas Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych.
In any tournament, on any surface, any of the top four players in the world can beat any other. The two most obvious challengers to Djokovic's Australian Open title are Murray and Roger Federer. If Djokovic met one of them in the finals, he'd still be favored, but it would be an epic match that he could very easily lose.
Then there's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, whom Djokovic beat in the 2008 finals to win his first Australian Open. Tsonga's power game makes him a dangerous wild card, especially on a hard court.
Fortunately for Djokovic, he's on the top side of the draw, while all three of his toughest competitors are on the bottom. Federer and Tsonga will face off in the quarterfinals, with the winner likely running into Murray in the semis.
Meanwhile, Djokovic will face Berdych, who has a history of erratic play in big matches, and presumably David Ferrer, whom Djokovic has beaten in nine of their 11 meetings on hard courts.
Djokovic is not unbeatable; he just has a fortuitous draw. Even if Berdych or Ferrer (or, more improbably, Nicolas Almagro) push him, the Djoker only plays stronger when facing adversity.
There are men still alive in Melbourne who could beat the No. 1 player in the world, but Djokovic won't face any of them until the finals.