Djokovic, Murray battle through to 3rd round; Jabeur, Ruud sent packing

Melbourne, Australia, Jan 19 (EFE).- Serbian nine-time champion and tournament favorite Novak Djokovic overcame a flare-up of a hamstring problem before rolling to a 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-0 Australian Open second-round victory Thursday night over French qualifier Enzo Couacaud.

The world No. 5’s victory came relatively early on in Day 4’s night session, which continued on into the wee hours of Friday and featured more drama and storylines.

Tunisian world No. 2 Ons Jabeur was bounced from the tournament in an error-riddled 6-1, 5-7, 6-1 second-round loss to the Czech Republic’s Marketa Vondrousova that ended just past 1 am, and then three hours later Scottish four-time runner-up Andy Murray finally outlasted Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis 4-6, 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 7-5 in a marathon match that lasted five hours and 45 minutes.

Djokovic’s fitness was already a question mark prior to the start of the event, but those concerns are now amplified after the 21-time Grand Slam champion was forced to head to the locker room during the second set for additional treatment on his hamstring.

The Serbian’s lateral movement was clearly diminished after he returned to the court and he ended up dropping the second set to the 191st-ranked Couacaud.

And even though Djokovic bounced back quickly at the start of the third set and won 12 of the last 14 games, his post-match comments indicate his title hopes have been dealt a significant blow.

“I am worried. I cannot say that I’m not. I have reason to be worried,” he told reporters about an injury that first surfaced at a tune-up event in Adelaide.

Djokovic, winner of a record nine Australian Open men’s singles titles, is back in Melbourne this year after having been barred from entering the country in 2022 because he was not vaccinated against Covid-19.

In fourth-round action on Saturday, he will square off against Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov.

Jabeur, for her part, will have to wait until the French Open in May to resume her quest to become the first African and Arab woman to win a Grand Slam title.

The Tunisian appeared on the cusp of a maiden major championship after reaching the final of both Wimbledon and the US Open last year.

But after complaining of a knee problem after her three-set, first-round victory over Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek on Tuesday, Jabeur committed a whopping 50 unforced errors (nearly two per game) in her loss to Vondrousova, who reached the 2019 French Open final but is now ranked just 86th in the world.

Jabeur released a statement to the media after her loss.

“I had a difficult time breathing. Not sure what’s happening. Marketa played a good match and deserved to win. I will do my best to come back stronger,” the Tunisian said.

In the final night-session match, Murray showed once again that he has fully recovered from a potentially career-ending hip injury that required multiple surgeries.

The three-time Grand Slam champion, now 35 and ranked No. 66, spent four hours and 49 minutes on court in his upset of Italian world No. 14 Matteo Berrettini in Tuesday’s first round.

In the second round, he withstood 37 aces and 102 winners off the racket of Kokkinakis and also navigated a tricky situation on serve in the 10th game of the fifth set, when he was two points from defeat, before prevailing in just under six hours and shortly after 4 am Friday.

“It was unbelievable I managed to turn that around,” said Murray, a five-time Australian Open finalist. “Thanasi was serving unbelievably and hitting his forehand huge. I don’t know how I managed to get through it. I did start playing better as the match went on, but yeah, I have a big heart.”

On Saturday, Murray will try to book a spot in the fourth round of a Grand Slam event for the first time since 2017 when he takes on Spanish veteran Roberto Bautista Agut.

In a big upset in the day session, Norwegian world No. 2 Casper Ruud was bounced out of the tournament by talented young American Jenson Brooksby 6-3, 7-5, 6-7 (4-7), 6-2.

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