Previewing Novak Djokovic's Likely Route to Semifinals at Australian Open

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Previewing Novak Djokovic's Likely Route to Semifinals at Australian Open
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Novak Djokovic owns Melbourne. 

The 26-year-old Serb followed up his first Grand Slam final win at the Australian Open in 2008 with two quarterfinal exits, but he has rolled to three titles in the last three majors at Melbourne Park, dropping just 10 combined sets over that span. 

Even in the scorching heat this year, the No. 2 seed looks intent on making it four in a row. 

He didn't drop a set against Lukas Lacko and Leonardo Mayer in his opening pair of no-nonsense wins. After the second-round victory, he spoke with the Australian Associated Press (h/t The Guardian) about his tip-top shape. "I've matured, got physically better, changed a few things in my diet," Djokovic said. "You always have to try and find that physical and mental edge."

Major No. 6 is in the crosshairs for Djoker and it's going to be difficult for anyone to knock him off course in Australia, where he's been so good over his career. 

Let's take a look at who may have the unenviable task of taking him on in the next three rounds. 

 

3rd Round: Denis Istomin

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Djokovic has handled Denis Istomin over his career, going 3-0 against the 27-year-old Uzbek, including a straight-set victory at the Australian Open in 2010. 

That being said, the Denis System gave Djoker some fits when they last played at the Rogers Cup in August. Istomin won the first set, 6-2, and Djokovic had to work his way back with two hard-fought 6-4 sets. Istomin finished with three breaks and won just two fewer points than Djokovic overall.

Winning this third-round matchup isn't likely for Istomin, but it will be interesting to see if he can replicate his defensive success from that one (36 percent return points won, only three breaks for Djokovic) and at least make the heavy favorite work in the scorching heat.

In the end, though, Istomin has looked a bit shaky in his wins over Marcos Baghdatis and Dmitry Tursunov and shouldn't provide much resistance. 

 

4th Round: Fabio Fognini or Sam Querrey

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Sam Querrey and Fabio Fognini have never played each other.

Although the rankings favor the latter, the American is coming off a very impressive straight-set victory over Ernests Gulbis and made it to the third round in Australia last year. Meanwhile, Fognini struggled a bit against Jarkko Nieminen and has never fared well here. 

In all likelihood, Querrey will be the one meeting Djokovic in the fourth round. 

Djoker is 7-1 all-time against the 26-year-old, with the one loss coming during the indoor season in Paris in 2012. Their last meeting occurred in Beijing in October 2013, with Djokovic disposing of Querrey 6-1, 6-2 in a mere 52 minutes.

If Querrey plays like he did against the No. 23 seed Gulbis, however, it may not be so easy for Djokovic. He commented on his performance when speaking with ATPWorldTour.com:

"That was one of my best serving days ever," said Querrey. "And I felt like I returned very well. He has a huge serve. I felt like I did a good job of making him play on his service games.

"It's one of my biggest wins in the past 12 months. It was overall a really solid match for me, the best I've felt in a long time. I just feel like I'm playing really well right now. I hope I can keep it up."

At the very least, this is a potentially intriguing matchup with Querrey already looking much improved after a miserable 2013 season.

 

Quarterfinals: Stanislas Wawrinka, Vasek Pospisil, Tommy Robredo or Richard Gasquet

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You have to believe it will be either Stanislas Wawrinka or Richard Gasquet advancing through this section of the draw. Both had tremendous 2013 seasons, culminating with semifinal appearances in New York and year-end rankings in the top 10. 

Perhaps it's just me wanting to see Wawrinka vs. Djokovic on this stage again, but I think it will be the other Swiss star making it past the fourth round. 

Djokovic has had Wawrinka's number throughout his career and handled him fairly easily during the indoor season at the end of 2013. During the last two hard-court majors, though, these two have met and their battles have been absolutely scintillating. 

Last year in Australia, Djokovic advanced in five sets after an instant-classic battle. In New York, the Serb once again triumphed in five thrilling sets. Combined, the two matches lasted nearly 10 hours. 

If they meet, who will win?

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Wawrinka, whose talent has never really been the question, has been continually getting better since he began working with Magnus Norman. If there's anyone who's going to break Djokovic's hard-court major semifinal streak, it's him.

You won't find many better quarterfinal matches than this potential matchup.

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