MELBOURNE, Australia: In the shadows of a sporting shrine where centuries are usually celebrated, Novak Djokovic reached an unprecedented 100 that took a touch of the glow off his streak of reaching the quarterfinals at a 27th consecutive major.
That's rarified territory for the five-time and defending champion, equaling Jimmy Connors' career mark of consecutive quarterfinals — only Roger Federer has more with his 36.
"These are the tournaments that we value the most and to be able to always come up with the best performance in the Grand Slams, of course I'm very proud of it and hopefully I can keep going," Djokovic said after holding off Gilles Simon 6-3, 6-7 (1), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 on Sunday at the Australian Open. He will next meet No. 7 Kei Nishikori, who beat No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
Five-time champion Federer won the last match of the night, beating No. 15-seeded David Goffin 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 to secure a quarterfinal against No. 6 Tomas Berdych, a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 winner over Roberto Bautista Agut.
Djokovic's 100 unforced errors were the most startling statistic of the day. He said he expected it to be tough against Simon, who is relentless in long rallies, but couldn't remember such a high number of errors. At the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the home of Australian cricket across the train tracks from Melbourne Park, 100 is a cherished number for runs scored by a batsman. That's not the case for the unforced errors columns at the national tennis center.
"No, I don't think I've had any number close to 100," he said. "In terms of the level that I've played, it's the match to forget for me."
The drama kept building after a relatively routine start to Day 7, when six-time champion Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova confirmed their quarterfinal date with straight-set wins, ensuring a rematch between last year's finalists.
Djokovic followed them on court, and needed 4 hours, 32 minutes, enduring relentless and long rallies before beating 31-year-old Simon.
And then No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanksa rallied from 5-2 down in the third set to win 6-7 (6), 6-1, 7-5 against Anna-Lena Friedsam, who finished the last two games hobbling and in tears, and also conceded a point penalty on her last serve, after taking a medical timeout for what appeared to be cramps. Radwanska next plays No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro, who had an 0-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Russian-born Australian Daria Gavrilova.
Djokovic only lost one match in a Grand Slam last year — the French Open final — and for the sixth straight major hadn't dropped a set in reaching the fourth round. Despite all that, he was ready to take tips from the public after his error-strewn performance.
A man in the crowd yelled out during the post-match interview that Djokovic should give up on the drop shots — some of which were incredibly ill-advised and poorly executed.
"OK, thanks buddy," Djokovic deadpanned. "I hate to say, but you are absolutely right."
Simon entered the match with a 1-9 win-loss record against Djokovic, but thought he'd worked out a way to beat the Serbian star by consistently and desperately keeping the rallies alive.
"I know a lot of players wanted me to win this match," the 31-year-old Frenchman said. "A lot of players will feel better with Novak out of the draw."
That is Williams' status on the women's side. The 21-time major winner had a 55-minute, 6-2, 6-1 win over Margarita Gasparyan to set up a big match against Sharapova, a player she has beaten in 18 of their 20 matches.
Fifth-seeded Sharapova had a career-high 21 aces and hit 58 winners in her 7-5, 7-5 win over Belinda Bencic.
Williams won 26 matches in a row at the majors last season, capturing the Australian, French and Wimbledon titles and reaching the semifinals at the U.S. Open before a stunning loss to Roberta Vinci ended her run for the season slam.
That's the driving factor here.
"For my whole career I have been motivated by losses. So that's just been my thing," she said. "So each time I take a loss, I feel like I get better."
Sharapova won consecutive matches against Williams in 2004, but has lost all 17 meetings since. It's a statistic she tries to block from her mind.
"I got myself into the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam," the 2008 Australian Open champion said. "There's no reason I shouldn't be looking to improve and to getting my game in a better position than any other previous round. It's only going to be tougher, especially against Serena."
First Published On : Jan 25, 2016 07:27 IST