It was a scare for Novak Djokovic, but the top-ranked player in the world is moving on to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open after a thrilling five-set win over Gilles Simon in the fourth round on Sunday.
The Australian Open tweeted of the victory:
That is why he's world No.1... Djokovic battles past Simon 6-3 6-7(1) 6-4 4-6 6-3 to reach a 27th straight major QF https://t.co/OttpPyPYT32016-1-24 08:36:16
It's almost a miracle to see Djokovic advance, after the Serbian star committed an astounding 100 unforced errors in the match. Yet when all else fails in his game, his will to win never leaves him.
The reigning five-time Australian Open champion seemed to grab a stranglehold on this match early. Djokovic won the first set 6-3 and appeared to be on his way to another cruise.
But the 14th-seeded Simon from France went shot-for-shot with Djokovic in the second set, forcing a tiebreaker. Simon won it 7-1 and evened the match at a set apiece.
Ben Rothenberg from the New York Times was surprised at how even the two players were at one point:
Ben Rothenberg @BenRothenberg
In a match that I didn't have much of any hopes for, Simon is giving Djokovic an unreal battle. Over two hours, into second set TB. #AusOpen2016-1-24 06:06:33
It was a surprising performance by Djokovic, who committed 44 unforced errors through two sets and seemed to have met his equal. Freelance journalist Carole Bouchard shared this thought on the star's unusual form:
Carole Bouchard @carole_bouchard
That's the worst performance I've seen from Djokovic since ages.2016-1-24 06:27:31
ESPN Tennis also provided this shot of Djokovic, looking visibly frustrated that he couldn't put his opponent away and take firm control of the match:
Needless to say Djokovic isn't thrilled with his play atm. An hour and forty minutes in, he leads Simon 6-3 4-4. https://t.co/6rm8qgSCCU2016-1-24 05:45:39
Djokovic appeared to take back some of the momentum he lost in a thrilling third set, taking it 6-4, but Simon continued to put the pressure on in the fourth. The Frenchman levelled at 4-4 after Djokovic's return went wide, and Anna Mendoza from BuzzFeed Australia noted how much the crowd was into this epic encounter:
Anna Mendoza @banannarep
Crowd at djokovic-simon also incredibly fired up rn2016-1-24 07:34:02
But the key for Simon was not doing anything fancy to win his points. He made Djokovic work at his pace. That's how he was able to not only prolong the match, but tire Djokovic out and force him to earn his way to two deuces in the fourth set and eventually tie the match.
The Australian Open tweeted heading to a fifth set:
Hold onto your hats, we're going FIVE! On his 4th set point, Simon takes the 4th set from Djokovic 6-4 #AusOpen https://t.co/xW5dgeXZxb2016-1-24 07:55:13
Going into the final stanza, Djokovic had only lost five times when leading 2-1, but no such occurrence had happened since 2010, per ESPN Tennis.
Fatigue and pressure looked to get to Simon by the time Djokovic took a 3-1 lead. Simon began hitting his returns wide, and Djokovic got his second wind. He breezed through the fifth game to take a 4-1 lead.
The excitement did not end, despite Djokovic having a chance to win the match in a thrilling back-and-forth affair in the eighth game. Simon wouldn't go away, and Djokovic wouldn't put him away.
Simon didn't have enough to muster a huge comeback, and Djokovic claimed a spot in the quarterfinals for the ninth straight year. Djokovic will face Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals.
Djokovic was quick to note how much Simon made him work for each point, per the Australian Open:
Djokovic: "Playing someone like Gilles you can expect a lot of rallies. I made a lot of unforced errors. It was physically demanding"2016-1-24 08:39:28
One of the keys to Djokovic's win was quadrupling Simon in the number of aces earned. Djokovic recorded nine, compared to Simon's two.
Here's a complete breakdown of some more crucial stats, per the Australian Open, as well as Djokovic's postgame interview in its entirety:
NUMBERS GAME The Djokovic v Simon story in stats... #AusOpen https://t.co/vbES76Rie22016-1-24 08:43:00
Listen to what #Djokovic said following his epic match against #Simon #AusOpen Watch more https://t.co/Ek545Zh2D9 https://t.co/m5r6OQ6syn2016-1-24 08:43:28
It was also a historic win for Djokovic, who earned a trip to his 27th straight quarterfinal matchup, per ATP Media Info. That moves him to second most all time, trailing only Roger Federer.
Hopefully Djokovic will take this fan's advice for his quarterfinals matchup, which should serve him well going forward, per the Cauldron: