A hot and bothered Novak Djokovic has bounded into yet another Australian Open semi-final but denies late-night scheduling could hand him a major advantage.
Pesky American 12th seed Taylor Fritz made life difficult for 36-year-old Djokovic on Tuesday afternoon in their sweltering quarter-final clash on Rod Laver Arena.
The 10-time Australian Open champion was agitated at times during the three-hour-and-45-minute battle, before reaching his 48th grand slam semi-final with a 7-6 (7-3) 4-6 6-2 6-3 victory.
“I suffered a lot in the first couple of sets,” said the Serb after notching his 33rd straight win at Melbourne Park to equal four-time women’s champion Monica Seles’ record.
“It was extremely hot while the sun was still out there.”
So sweltering was the 31C heat that Djokovic, who extended his unbeaten tour record against Fritz to nine, uncharacteristically donned a cap at the sun-facing end and repeatedly placed ice packs on his head to cool down.
The king of Melbourne Park could not convert any of his first 15 break-point chances but broke his duck early in the third set.
“Conversion of break points was really poor,” Djokovic said of his four-from-21 success rate.
“But, at the end of the day, I managed to break him when it mattered in the third and the fourth.”
Djokovic has drawn within two wins of clinching an unprecedented 25th grand slam that would lift him past Margaret Court’s magic mark of 24, which has stood since 1973.
He faces a semi-final showdown on Friday with Italian fourth seed Jannik Sinner, who had to wait until 10.42pm local time to begin his tie with Russian No.5 seed Andrey Rublev and 1.22am to finish it.
Fritz did not fire the first ball down to Djokovic until 4.43pm local time after a legends doubles match was inexplicably scheduled before American Coco Gauff’s marathon three-set win over Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk.
The Australian Open was expanded to a 15-day event this year, with tournament director Craig Tiley declaring it would “minimise late finishes” for the athletes and spectators.
Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis famously played until 4.33am at Melbourne Park in 2008, a marker broached last year by Andy Murray and Thanasi Kokkinakis when they finished at 4.05am.
Fritz said he had spoken with Russian world No.3 Daniil Medvedev after his 3.39am finish earlier in the tournament, suggesting a start time of nearly 11pm for Sinner and Rublev would “screw up” their sleep schedule.
“I pray for those guys,” said the American.
“There’s got to be something they (organisers) can do to where people aren’t playing until 2-3am.
“I don’t think people really fully understand how much time we actually have to spend doing stuff after we finish playing as far as ice bath, treatment with physios, massage, all this stuff.
“If you finish at 2am, there is no chance I’m going to sleep until 5-6am.”
Djokovic, who has openly professed his preference to play at night, admitted the situation was far from ideal for Sinner but pushed back on a suggestion it would offer him an unfair advantage over the eventual winner.
“What kind of advantage will I have,” he queried.
“We have two days (to rest). It’s not much of an advantage that I see there.
“We are playing semi-finals on Friday, so plenty of time for whoever wins that match tonight to recover.”
Describing Tiley as a “great person”, Djokovic noted organisers were ultimately beholden to commercial interests and the whim of TV broadcasters when it comes to scheduling.
“There are different ways to address this,” he said.
“Maybe scheduling less matches on the centre court, doing it in one session, which is most likely not going to happen, because every session carries a lot of economical value for them.”