Sydney (dpa) – World number one Novak Djokovic overcame injury and US Open champion Dominic Thiem rallied from two sets down as both advanced into the fourth round of the Australian Open in five-set thrillers on Friday.
Djokovic battled through what appeared to be a rib injury to beat Taylor Fritz 7-6 (7-1), 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, after falling early in the third set.
World number three Thiem survived being two sets down to beat local star Nick Kyrgios 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in front of a noisy crowd shortly before a new government imposed lockdown of at least five days started in Melbourne to contain the coronavirus.
Fans were able to follow Kyrgios until the end but had to leave the Djokovic match half an hour before midnight when it was early in the fourth set.
Play in Melbourne had been taking place with the show courts filled to one-third with spectators as local authorities are allowing up to 30,000 fans to Melbourne Park each day.
It was a brief, welcome change for players amid the coronavirus pandemic after last year’s US Open took place behind closed doors and the French Open in front of very small crowds.
On the women’s side, Japanese powerhouse Naomi Osaka swept past Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur in straight sets and will now meet 2020 finalist Garbine Murguruza after they both progressed on Friday.
Serena Williams, and French Open champ Iga Swiatek progressed into a last 16 date with second seed Simona Halep.
Fritz headed to a wild start against Djokióvic but after squaring the sets lost steam in the decider.
Djokovic broke for 4-2 and never looked back despite the injury he seemingly sustained when he slipped while two sets up.
“That’s why I’m here,” survivor Djokovic said, with Canada’s Milos Raonic his next opponent.
Kyrgios had first unnerved Thiem with strong serving and some cheeky underarm serves, including one to go two sets up against Thiem.
But Thiem finally got going, a points penalty didn’t help Kyrgios either, and his fate was sealed when Thiem got the deciding break for 4-3 in the final set of what was arguably the match of the tournament so far.
“Since US Open I know that impossible is nothing,” Thiem said on court after the win, while Kyrgios said on Instagram: “Haven’t felt nerves like this in a long time.”
Thiem next plays Grigor Dimitrov who had entry to the final 16 handed to him after Pablo Carreno Busta’s forced retirement through illness after dropping the first seven games.
German Alexander Zverev breezed through to the fourth round defeating Frenchman Adrian Mannarino 6-3, 6-3, 6-1; while number eight Diego Schwartzman of Argentina became the highest seed to go out, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 against Russian qualifier Azlan Karazev.
Three-time grand slam champion and 2019 Melbourne champion Osaka won 6-3, 6-2 over Jabeur in their first meeting.
“I was really nervous and scared because I didn’t know if she was going to hit a drop shot on any ball,” Osaka said.
Murguruza completely dominated Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan 6-1, 6-1 and has dropped only 10 games all tournament.
Williams overcame a shaky start to down Russian teen Anastasia Potapova, who took an injury time-out in the second set, winning 7-6 (7-5) 6-2.
The seven-time champion had to recover from 5-3 down and save two set points in the first set to best the former Wimbledon junior champion.
“It definitely feels good to be in the fourth round and it’s so good to get through that match,” the 10th seed said.
“I felt like I came out not off to the starting blocks like I would have wanted to and like I have been since I’ve been playing here.
“But it’s about surviving and playing better every round,” Williams said.
The 39-year-old now faces Arnya Sabalenka on Sunday, continuing her chase for a record-equalling 24th grand slam.
World number seven Sabalenka took only an hour to win 6-3, 6-1 over American Ann Li and a win over Williams would give her a first-ever quarter-final berth at the majors.
Former French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova beat Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-4, and Halep successfully overclassed Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova 6-1, 6-3.
“I knew that she’s hitting very strong and flat, so I had to be very strong on my legs as well and I think the serve helped me a lot today,” Halep said.
The task against Swiatek, a 6-3, 6-4 winner over Fiona Ferro, will be even tougher, and behind closed doors.