Rafael Nadal declared Novak Djokovic's win over Taylor Fritz a "very strange match" and said he was left with a "strange feeling" at watching the S
Rafael Nadal declared Novak Djokovic’s win over Taylor Fritz a “very strange match” and said he was left with a “strange feeling” at watching the Serbian recover to win the fifth set and avoid an early Australian Open exit at the hands of the American.
There are major question marks over Djokovic’s ability to defend his title in Melbourne after the 17-time Grand Slam champion suffered an apparent stomach muscle tear against Fritz.
Djokovic was two sets up but was visibly struggling with the pain of his fitness problem and needed a medical timeout in the third set.
The Serbian said on Friday: “I don’t think I’ll manage to recover from that in less than two days. I don’t know if I’m going to step out on the court or not.
“The way it felt at the beginning of the third set, when I got my first medical timeout, I was debating really strongly in my head to retire the match after two games, because I just couldn’t move, I couldn’t rotate, I couldn’t return.
“The only thing I could do is serve, and that’s what got me out of the trouble.”
Djokovic called the win one of the “most special” of his entire career but the 33-year-old is a doubt to take on Canadian Milos Raonic for a spot in the quarter-finals as a result of his problem.
The eight-time Australian Open winner skipped practice on Saturday and is awaiting the results of scans on his abdominal issue before deciding whether to take on big-serving Raonic on Sunday (no earlier than 9.15am UK time).
And Nadal, who booked his own spot in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Saturday by defeating Briton Cameron Norrie in straight sets, admitted it was an unusual spectacle.
Nadal, whose hopes of a second Melbourne title would be improved were Djokovic to drop out, said: “No, I don’t like to have a lot of opinions on other matches, no? Anyone has his personal feelings.
“Of course have been a very strange match. But I can’t have an opinion, because I don’t know what’s he’s feeling.
“Because for two sets looks like he’s going to retire and then in the fifth I think he played quite normal a lot of points.
“I don’t know. A strange feeling for me, like a spectator. But that’s it. He found a way to win, so well done.”
It is currently unclear whether Djokovic will step on to court on day seven to face Raonic with the world No 1 scheduled to face his opponent, against whom he is 11-0, in the final match of the night.
Nadal is meanwhile continuing to overcome his own fitness struggles, having battled a back injury throughout the first week of the Australian Open that prevented him from playing for Spain in last week’s ATP Cup.
Novak Djokovic injury: Australian Open chief issues update on star
Australian Open POLL: Will Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic to title?
Australian Open: Keep up to date with our new tennis email – sign up
After his third-round win over Norrie, however, the 20-time Grand Slam winner – who is looking to surpass Roger Federer to claim his 21st this month and only his second ever Australian Open triumph – says he is beginning to feel better.
“It’s less pain. That’s all. The back was not getting better each day, it was getting better today,” Nadal smiled.
WATCH THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN LIVE ON EUROSPORT AND EUROSPORT APP
“Today is better, yeah. First day I feel an improvement, and that’s the most important thing for me today, more than any other thing.
“I need to come back to my normal serving. I was serving quite well. So of course I was not serving my normal serve for the last 15 days.
“Today is the first day that I started to serve again my normal serve. But yesterday I didn’t practice, so today just warming up with the new, with the normal movement.
“So of course I didn’t serve bad, but I can do better, I think. And I’m looking forward to do it better, no?
“It’s been an important victory for me. The biggest victory is the back is better for the first day. So that’s the most important thing.”
Nadal and Djokovic are projected to meet in the final, fitness dependent, but Dominic Thiem will fancy his chances of contesting the showpiece clash if the Serbian misses out.
The third-seeded Austrian takes on Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in round four on the Rod Laver Arena before Djokovic is scheduled to face Raonic.
Thiem, who saw off home hope Nick Kyrgios in his last match, is on course to meet top seed Djokovic in the semi-finals and will play the winner of 19th-ranked Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime and Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev if he beats Dimitrov.
If Djokovic plays Raonic and wins, meanwhile, he could go head-to-head with German Alexander Zverev, the sixth seed, in the quarter-finals.
Nadal is then most likely to face Stefanos Tsitsipas, who takes on Italian Matteo Berrettini, if the ‘King of Clay’ gets past Fognini.