It took 4 hours, 32 minutes, but Novak Djokovic advanced in the end beating a spirited Gilles Simon 6-3, 6-7(1), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. The win put the World No. 1 into his 27th straight Grand Slam quarterfinals (Roger Federer holds the record at 36 straight) and his 9th in a row at the Australian Open where he has won five times.
Djokovic, though, didn’t play his best tennis. Hardly. He sprayed a career-high 100 unforced errors in a very shaky performance against a man he had beaten nine straight times.
Djokovic will next face an in-form Kei Nishikori Tuesday in a rematch of their 2014 US Open semifinal won by the Japanese.
After the win, Djokovic met the press:
Q. There was no huge joy for you after the match point. What was going through your mind after those 4 hours and 32 minutes of fight?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, that I was obviously pleased to win the match. The last point counts. But in terms of the performance itself, I haven’t done well at all.
But, you know, can expect unforced errors when you’re playing Gilles Simon who is one of the best counter-punchers in the tour at the moment and he’s been around for many years. He likes to play long matches. He likes to play long rallies.
But I knew what was expecting me on the court. But I honestly didn’t expect to make this many unforced errors. In terms of a level that I’ve played, it’s the match to forget for me.
Again, I won it, so it’s pretty good. When you’re playing that bad and still manage to win — hopefully it’s going to be better next one.
Q. Do you have an explanation as to why you didn’t play well?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It just happens. You have those days. As I said, a lot depends from the opponent. And Gilles is a great defender. Always makes you play an extra shot. You have days like this, but fortunately you manage to fight your way through. I think in important moments the serve was getting me out of trouble. That’s what I take as a positive from today.
Q. Do you remember any other match where you had a hundred…
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Not even close, no.
Q. That you won, I mean, or that you lost.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: No, I don’t think I’ve had any close number to a hundred.
But, again, there is a first time for everything.
Q. When you get to a fifth set like that with a player as good as Simon, do you enter a sort of calm zone, rational zone, or is there a sense of panic at all?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well I think I lost the fourth set because I lost my calm. 4-All, 30-Love, just wasted that game with some unforced errors, handed him the set. After that, you know, the set was gone, I had to just regroup and find that strength and find that focus that was necessary for me to win the match.
Should have finished at 5-1. Should have used my serve. Haven’t done it. Some more unforced errors on the stats.
But, again, the last game was a pretty good service game. As I said, that part of my game was pretty good today, if I can select something.
Q. When you were playing all those dropshots, it was because of lack of patience?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, you know, it’s not easy when you’re not feeling the ball well and when you’re not moving that great. When you’re playing someone like Simon, he senses that and he makes you play an extra shot. Then you’re trying to cut down on the length of the rallies, go for a winner or go for a dropshot. Sometimes you have a brain freeze, if I can call it that way. That’s what happened to me many times with those dropshots.
Q. How much does it concern you going forward, having had a match this long?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Actually, it gives me great joy to know that I can’t get worse than that, than what I played today (smiling). It doesn’t concern me for the next one.
Q. Do you feel tactically Simon maybe found something in uncomfortable positions throughout this match?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, not to take anything out from his fight and performance, I thought he fought well, played well. You know, I don’t think he was doing anything special. I mean, I missed so many balls midcourt, so many breakpoint opportunities just wasted.
I think it was my fault for sending this match to a fifth set.
Q. What makes you confident after 4 hours and 32 minutes to play in 48 hours and be strong physically enough against Nishikori?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, the win makes me confident; the loss doesn’t so much. So I think that’s simple.
I’ve been in these situations before. The good thing about Grand Slams is that you have a day off in between, which gives you enough time.
I’ve had worse situations where I had much less time to recover after long matches. So I’m sure I’ll be fine.
Q. You tied a mark today by Jimmy Connors. What are your thoughts about him? Have you met him?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Obviously I have tremendous respect for his achievements and who he is, what he has done for this sport. He drew a lot of people to watch tennis, bringing a lot of energy on the court, a lot of charisma, just a lot of quality overall.
To be able to be mentioned alongside such a legend of course is a privilege. The fact that I’ve played this many quarterfinals in a row, as I said on the court, definitely pleases me because I always wanted to play my best tennis in Grand Slams and always aimed to perform my best in these tournaments.
I’ve done it so far. Hopefully I can keep going.
Q. Gilles was saying something along the lines of the locker room would rather you’re not in the draw, in a good way.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Which locker room (laughter)?
Yeah, I read that, but he didn’t specify which locker room.
Q. He was saying because you’re the best in the world, people would rather you weren’t in the draw. Because you’re more dominant, do you get the sense?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Again, I don’t know which locker room he’s talking about. Women’s locker room I’m pretty popular, I know that (laughter).
Q. Uniqlo, you and Nishikori, a tennis outfit I don’t see anywhere. Just you? Okay.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, they still are — it’s a long story, but I hope that soon people will have an opportunity to buy the clothes in their stores.
Q. Do you think today says a lot about your desire, the fact that you’re still in the tournament?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, I mean, I’m not the only player who wants to do well here. But the main reason why I’m in Australia and why I’m playing here is because I want to do well.
I don’t take any moments spent on the court for granted. I always try to give my best. Of course, the best changes day-to-day. Today’s match is an example of that.
But you can always give your effort. You can always be professional and try to fight for every ball. I think because of that kind of attitude, I managed to win this match today.
Q. What goes through your mind in a match like this? Is your mind just spinning?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Many times my mind is asking for oxygen because there were so many rallies. You’re just trying to focus on breathing and on the next point. Obviously what’s done is done. It’s behind you. Can’t affect that.
Generally speaking, from experience, it’s not a very pleasant feeling when you’re not playing well. But certainly it’s a good feeling when you win not playing well. So I’ll try to take that as an incentive for the future.
Q. For a long time we’ve talked about Serena versus the field, Serena against the world. Do you feel like you’ve entered into that territory on the men’s side? Have you ever talked to Serena about the pressure that entails?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yeah, we talked about it. Good relationship with Serena. She’s a great champion. I have lots of admiration for her. But she’s a great example of somebody that still at her age, after all she achieved, keeps going. That kind of hunger and drive for the success is something that is very impressive, something that not many players have, both men’s and women’s side. So you can learn from that.
There are places where you’re more liked or loved and places where you’re less loved. It’s all part of what we do. Traveling around the world, tennis is a very international sport, global sport, so I wouldn’t even think of me against the world. I don’t think it’s the right term at all. I don’t feel that way, honestly.
I’m enjoying the places. Some places more support; some places less. It’s normal. People have the freedom and right to choose who they’re going to support. What’s important in your hands is to kind of stay committed, be responsible towards yourself, towards the sport if you’re a top player. Certain things that the success I had on the tour have appeared for me as an obstacle, as a challenge, as a life lesson. I’m evolving, learning as I go along. I’m trying to be my best.
Q. As a fan shouted, No more dropshots, what else could you do to avoid those unforced errors?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It would be interesting to see how many dropshot points I won. It’s probably one out of 40, very low percentage. The person who shouted was absolutely right, as I said on the court.
But sometimes it works. It’s my game. As I said, I don’t think it can get much worse than this. A hundred unforced errors for a match is really tremendous for me, my style of the game. I’m aggressive but still like to construct the point.
Too many unforced errors today. I’m going to make sure that I decrease that number at least more than half and hope for the best.
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