Concerns over a hamstring injury won’t hold back Novak Djokovic when he confronts his “Balkan brother” Grigor Dimitrov in the headline act of third-round action on day six of the Australian Open.
Djokovic’s stocks have risen at Melbourne Park as he ramps up his pursuit of a 10th Open crown, following the shock exits of top two seeds Rafael Nadal and Casper Ruud.
But the Serbian superstar was troubled by his sore left hamstring during a second-round win over Enzo Couacaud and has been limited in his preparation.
He has spent most of his time between matches focusing on rehabilitation, rather than practice, working with medical staff around the clock.
Next up is a clash with familiar Bulgarian Dimitrov, who Djokovic has beaten in nine of 10 previous encounters.
The pair last met in Paris in 2019 and have never done battle in Melbourne, with Dimitrov’s only triumph over Djokovic coming on Madrid clay almost a decade ago.
“Hopefully it’s going to be an entertaining match,” Djokovic said after dispatching French qualifier Couacaud.
“He’s been playing some great tennis, I know him really well.
“We’re good friends off the court, Balkan brothers, so let the better player win.”
Djokovic was one of a host of players affected when extreme heat and rain wreaked havoc on the schedule early this week.
It created a backlog of matches that had to be crammed into the schedule, many late at night.
Djokovic’s third-round commitments didn’t finish until well after midnight on Friday morning.
“That’s obviously something that you just have to accept and deal with,” he said.
“I mean, it’s best-of-five for us guys.
“Yeah, it’s not perfect that when you finish a match (at about midnight) and then you have to do recovery, so forth, and you go to sleep, 3, 4, 5am.
“It affects recovery and the next day. The good thing is you have a day between the matches, on a positive note.”
In Saturday’s other matches, Australian hopes Alexei Popyrin and Alex De Minaur, the 22nd seed, take on American Ben Shelton and France’s Benjamin Bonzi respectively.
Seeds Andrey Rublev (five) and Dan Evans (25) do battle, while Andy Murray takes on Roberto Bautista Agut (24) after his epic five-set win over Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Women’s seeds Aryna Sabalenka (five) and Elise Mertens (26) meet in an intriguing contest and Belinda Bencic (12) takes on Camila Giorgi.