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Monday, January 30, 2023

Novak prevails over Couacaud, moves in third round of AO

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Melbourne: Novak Djokovic stepped on the accelerator to move into the third round at the Australian Open on Thursday night, but not without a scare.

Djokovic needed a medical timeout for his lingering left leg injury and conceded a set before prevailing against dogged French qualifier Enzo Couacaud 6-1 6-7(5) 6-2 6-0 in the setting he enjoys most – a night match at Rod Laver Arena.

He likely wouldn’t mind temperatures to increase a little in Melbourne, however. They dropped to the mid-teens, nothing unusual for a city where the weather can change as quick as an ace.

A nine-time champion who has now won 23 straight matches at Melbourne Park, the Serb has seen it all before, AO reported.

Couacaud was under pressure immediately and Djokovic earned the break he sought for 3-1, striking a forehand passing shot winner.

To add to his woes, Couacaud rolled his right ankle on the point. He quickly received a medical timeout to have the ankle taped.

Djokovic routinely stretched his leg and appeared in discomfort at times, meanwhile. Continuing to delve deep into his opponent’s service games, Couacaud replied by striking an ace on break point at 3-3 in the second.

Djokovic left court for the medical timeout at 4-5, but held firm at 30-all and deuce for 5-5.

When he won a 24-shot exchange to lead 5-4 in the tiebreak, one felt the set was his. Couacaud, though, crushed a winner, benefited from a double fault and then another unforced error to square proceedings.

How would the 21-time Grand Slam winner respond?

He produced four forehand winners to break at love for 2-0 in the third and broke at the same stage of the fourth, subsequently jogging a fair distance to grab his towel.

Djokovic slammed a serve to save the lone break point he faced and held in 12 minutes for 3-0 to all but end the drama.

The third round marks a potential meeting of seeds for the first time and indeed, Grigor Dimitrov, No. 27, awaits Djokovic.

Djokovic owns a 9-1 record against the former Australian Open semifinalist, and that one blemish came on clay. His leg could be tested further, as the Bulgarian often digs in and contests lengthy rallies.

It has been a while since the two 30-somethings faced off, their most recent meeting coming in 2019.

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