Novak Djokovic, the Australian Open's top-seeded men's player, powered through a potential abdominal tear on Friday to defeat his American opponent, Taylor Fritz, in five rounds to reach the competition's Round of 16. Djokovic beat his opponent back 7-6(1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 while in considerable pain through the back half of the match.
The injury itself happened in the third set and with seemingly each serve and return, there was at least a notable wince from Djokovic. His next match is set to take place on Sunday against Milos Raonic, but whether he's actually able to take the court for that is up in the air.
"I know it is a tear of the muscle, so I don't know if I will manage to recover from that in less than two days," Djokovic said after the match, per ATP. "I don't know if I am going to step out on the court or not. I am just very proud of this achievement tonight."
As for the match itself, the 33-year-old reigning champion held firm control of things during the first two sets, getting his 23-year-old opponent to do whatever he wanted him to do. Things understandably changed during the third set, with Djokovic up 2-1, when he was forced to call a trainer to the court for treatment.
At first, it certainly looked like the situation would be similar to Venus Williams, where the veteran valiantly powered through the pain of an on-court injury only to fall to their younger, more physically capable opponent in heartbreaking fashion.
Fritz took the third set with ease, as Djokovic could not do anything in response to serves towards his forehand, and when he served, he was unable to muscle through any attempt at a return. This continued into the fourth, but Djokovic's abdominal injury apparently began to feel better towards the end of that set.
In the final set, played in an empty venue because of newly implemented COVID-19 restrictions, the 33-year-old won his first break point since the second set with a now-recovered forehand to go up 4-2, and then took the next two games to get the win.
"I want to congratulate Taylor for a great fight," said Djokovic. "I am sorry that he lost the match today. I just tried to stay in there. I was hopeful that whatever was happening there [in my abdominal muscles] was going to feel better and towards the end of the fourth [set] it started to feel better."
If Djokovic chooses to continue his run on Sunday, it'll mean the continuation of his hunt for his ninth Australian Open title, which would extend the record he holds and would make him the second man to win nine or more Grand Slams at a single event.