Novak Djokovic laughed off suggestions he became embroiled in ’exhibition tennis’ before seeing off Radek Stepanek at the Australian Open today.
Stepanek’s quirky game and Djokovic’s all-round brilliance produced an entertaining encounter on Rod Laver Arena with numerous compelling rallies to thrill the crowd.
The world number one eventually came through 6-4 6-3 7-5 as he moved on to a fourth-round meeting with Stanislas Wawrinka, a straight-sets winner against Sam Querrey.
And while he enjoyed the nature of today’s match Djokovic insisted it did not distract him from the ultimate aim.
“It’s the third round of a grand slam, I think that says enough,” he said. “Both of us wanted to win the match and even though we enjoyed it there is no exhibition here. You want to win on the court.”
Stepanek, seeded 31, provided Djokovic with his stiffest test of the tournament so far with his mix of charging the net – he moved forward 67 times in the two hour, 22 minute contest – and drop shots.
“I wasn’t expecting an easy match coming into the third round,” added Djokovic, who is hoping to become the first man in the Open era to win three successive Melbourne crowns.
“He is top 30 in the world and somebody that has a lot of experience on the tour. He also loves the big stage, you saw how much fun he had.”
The first two sets were similar – Stepanek holding his own before Djokovic struck at key times.
The top seed broke through in the 10th game to claim the opener when Stepanek netted a makeable volley, and a wonderful backhand pass handed him a 5-3 advantage in the second.
It remained on serve in the third until 5-5 when Stepanek dumped a weak backhand into the net at 15-40, after which there was no way back.
Eighth seed Janko Tipsarevic won through to a meeting with Nicolas Almagro after prevailing in another five-set thriller.
The Serbian, who was taken all the way by Lukas Lacko on Wednesday, saw off Frenchman Julien Benneteau 3-6 6-4 2-6 6-4 6-3.
He admits, however, that spending so long on court may hinder him against 10th-seeded Spaniard Almagro, who beat Jerzy Janowicz 7-6 (7/3) 7-6 (7/4) 6-1.
“I’m feeling fit at the moment but these five-set matches are really not going to help me,” he said.
“I’m really wanting to go deep in the tournament and my legs are going to feel the five-set matches I have played.”
Kei Nishikori ended the run of Russian Evgeny Donskoy 7-6 (7/3) 6-2 6-3 but Fernando Verdasco is out after going down in five sets to big-serving South African Kevin Anderson.
Anderson will next face fifth seed Tomas Berdych, who enjoyed a routine 6-3 6-2 6-2 win over Jurgen Melzer.