Jan. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Novak Djokovic avoided an Australian Open first-week exit with another marathon win in Melbourne.
After outlasting Rafael Nadal in a five-set final lasting a record 5 hours, 53 minutes to win the title 12 months ago, Djokovic fought back from a set and 5-2 down to beat Stanislas Wawrinka in just over five hours at Rod Laver Arena to reach his 15th straight tennis Grand Slam quarterfinal.
“I’m just thrilled to be able to fight once again up to the last moment,” Djokovic told reporters. “The fact is that I haven’t played nearly my best and I didn’t feel well on the court in terms of rhythm and ball-striking. I’m very glad to be a winner of another marathon.”
Djokovic, 25, fought back to win 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 12-10 after Wawrinka, the 15th seed from Switzerland, had served for a two-sets-to-love lead. The victory, secured at 1:41 a.m. local time with a crosscourt backhand winner on his third match point, lifted the Serb into third place for the most consecutive men’s quarterfinal appearances at the four majors behind Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors. His last failure was at the 2009 French Open, when he lost in the third round.
Djokovic, seeking to become the first man since the professional era began in 1968 to win three straight Australian Open titles, will face fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic for a place in the semifinals.
His fourth-round match lasted five hours, two minutes, with the final set alone taking 104 minutes, as Djokovic and Wawrinka produced 120 winners between them. Wawrinka manufactured more winners with his one-handed backhand, top-spin forehands and a first-serve averaging 195 kilometers-per-hour (121 miles-per-hour), though committed 93 unforced errors to 66 by Djokovic.
“I think it’s by far my best match I ever played,” Wawrinka said after going close to his first career victory against a No. 1-ranked player at the 12th attempt. “At the end I was really, really close. For sure I’m really sad.”
Before beating 11-time Grand Slam champion Nadal of Spain to win the 2012 title in Melbourne, Djokovic also won a four hour, 50-minute semifinal against Andy Murray of Britain. Later in the year, Djokovic and Murray contested a four-hour, 54-minute U.S. Open championship decider that tied the record for the longest final at the National Tennis Center in New York.
“In the end these kind of matches, after five hours, definitely help your confidence,” Djokovic said after beating Wawrinka. “These are the matches that you live for, you practice for. You want to be on the center court and play on such a high level for five hours. It’s incredible.”
After Djokovic held his opening service, Wawrinka won six straight games to take the first set in 25 minutes. The Swiss right-hander continued to rip winners to take a 5-2 lead in the second set, though lost four straight points when serving at 5-3 up to let Djokovic back into the match.
Djokovic took the third set before Wawrinka sent the match into a deciding set as the clock approached midnight by winning the fourth-set tiebreaker on his third set point with a forehand drive down the line.
Following two breaks of serve to start the fifth set, Djokovic fought off another two break points to take a 2-1 lead. Wawrinka squandered another four opportunities to break in the ninth game, which lasted almost 10 minutes.
“At 4-4 I had some chances to take the match,” Wawrinka added. “In five sets, five hours, you always have some opportunity to win a set or to win the match. If you don’t take it, he’s going to take it.”
Both players served strongly until the 22nd game. After saving two match points with a 200-kph serve and backhand winner down the line, Wawrinka gave Djokovic a third chance to close out the victory, which he took by winning a 20-shot rally with a backhand passing shot across the incoming Swiss, who fell to the ground as the ball flew past him.
Moments later, Djokovic ripped his shirt off and bellowed skywards in celebration.
“It was one of the longest, most interesting, and most exciting matches I played in my career,” added Djokovic, the winner of five Grand Slam singles titles. “He had many chances to be the winner of this match. I feel sorry that one of us had to lose. We pushed each other to the limit.”
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