With the first four rounds of the Australian Open in the books, world No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic remains in the draw after his marathon five-set win over Stanislas Wawrinka in the round of 16.
The road only gets tougher for Djokovic in the second week and it will certainly be a struggle for Nole to win his third straight Australian Open title.
Djokovic went into Melbourne as one of the favorites, along with Roger Federer and Andy Murray, to win the tournament. With Federer and Murray both on the other side of the bracket, Djokovic seemed primed for an easy ride to the final.
After a week of play, however, Djokovic has been tested harder than either of his rivals. Even before his five-hour test against Wawrinka, Djokovic played a third-round match against 31st seed, Radek Stepanek, that was a much tougher than the 6-4 6-3 7-5 score would indicate.
All the energy he has expended in the early rounds could cause trouble for Djoker as the tournament progresses.
Djokovic denied fatigue being a factor going forward (per ESPN's Kamakshi Tandon), and given that Djokovic did go 7-5 in the fifth set of two straight matches to win this tournament last year, it’s hard to deny that his confidence is justified. Those matches were in the final two rounds of the tournament, however, and being pushed as hard as Djokovic has been this early in the tournament may cause too much of a burden for Djokovic to maintain his play for another week.
Another major threat to Djoker’s title streak is how well the players in his side of the draw are playing.
His quarterfinal opponent, Tomas Berdych, has not dropped a set in this tournament and is no stranger to playing top players on a big stage. Djokovic’s 11-1 head-to-head record against Berdych may be daunting, but only two of those matches were at majors, and they split those two matchups.
If Nole makes it past Berdych, he will face the winner of a match between David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro. Ferrer came into the tournament as the fourth seed due to Rafael Nadal’s illness and has played well enough to earn it in the early stages of the tournament, especially in his straight-set dismantling of 16th-seeded Kei Nishikori.
Ferrer’s 12-0 record against Almagro gives him the edge to reach the semifinal, where his counterpunching style could give an already weary Djokovic fits.
Should Djokovic manage to break through this field, he would still very likely be facing either Roger Federer or Andy Murray in the final, the two players who knocked him out of the past two major tournaments.
Given the challenges he faces going forward, this road to a third consecutive Australian Open title may be the toughest yet.