Rod Laver Rivalry: Novak Djokovic Surpasses Serena Williams

Novak Djokovic notched his 78th Rod Laver victory against Tomas Martin Etcheverry

by Jovica Ilic
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Rod Laver Rivalry: Novak Djokovic Surpasses Serena Williams
© Phil Walter / Staff - Getty Images Sport

World no. 1 and the defending Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic experienced another memorable day at the office at his beloved Rod Laver Arena. Novak defeated Tomas Martin Etcheverry in the third round, moving into the last 16 at Melbourne Park for the 16th time and remaining on the title course.

Djokovic notched a milestone triumph on Friday night, delivering his 78th victory at Rod Laver Arena and leaving Serena Williams on 77! The Serb trails only Roger Federer, who collected 93 triumphs at one of the world's most prominent arenas.

Novak's first Rod Laver Arena victory came on January 15, 2008, beating Benjamin Becker in the first round. Sixteen years later, the 36-year-old is still the title contender, challenging the younger rivals and looking eager to defend his Australian Open throne for another year.

Novak arrived in Melbourne with a minor virus and could not perform at his best in the opening two rounds.

Novak Djokovic, Australian Open 2024© Daniel Pockett / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

However, the Serb defeated two rivals in four sets, giving himself enough time to recover and raise his level in the third match.

Novak's first rival was an 18-year-old Dino Prizmic and beat the young gun 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 after four hours. The young Croat fought well after the opener, pushing the Serb to the limits and defending six match points before laying down his weapons, earning praises from Novak.

Djokovic struggled to find the energy in the most extended rallies in the opening three sets, changing that in the fourth. He lost serve four times and turned 40% of the return points into eight breaks from 17 opportunities.

Novak started another campaign at Rod Laver Arena with a reliable performance in the opening set, winning it 6-2 against the rival who needed a medical timeout. Dino recover and raised his level in the second set, showing his skills and talent.

They exchanged breaks in games four and five and introduced a tie break after seven fine holds.

Novak Djokovic, Australian Open 2024© Daniel Pockett / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

Prizmic stepped in and grabbed it 7-5, taking an extended rally after Djokovic's forehand error to level the overall score.

The third set lasted 70 games, with two rivals fighting hard for every point. They traded early breaks and battled for 17 minutes at 2-2. Dino refused to surrender, converting his third break point and moving in front. Novak responded quickly, pulling the break back in game six and delivering another return game at 4-3 to forge the lead.

Djokovic served for the set at 5-3 and held at 30 to move two sets to one advantage after three hours. Novak broke Dino's resiatance with a double break early in the fourth set, opening a 4-0 lead and moving closer to the finish line.

Prizmic denied a break point in game five and grabbed a break, reducing the deficit to 4-2. A teenager saved four match points on serve in game nine, reducing the gap to 5-4. Novak served for the victory in game ten and seized his seventh match point to advance into the second round.

Novak Djokovic has won 78 matches at Roid Laver Arena.

Djokovic had to dig deep in the second round as well, beating Alexei Popyrin 6-3, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 in three hours and 11 minutes. Novak played below his best, struggling with the virus, a heckler in the stands and an inspired rival.

Novak denied four set points on serve at 4-5 in the third set, surviving and playing well in the fourth to emerge at the top. The Serb lost serve two times and delivered three breaks in a tight battle. Novak forged the lead with a forehand winner in the eighth game and landed a backhand down the line winner in the next one for 6-3 in 39 minutes.

Alexie raised his level in the second set, breaking Novak with a volley winner in the fourth game and producing fine holds for 5-2. The Aussie served for the set in game nine, feeling the pressure and netting a forehand to lose serve and keep the Serb in contention.

However, Djokovic lost serve at 4-5 after the rival's lob winner, allowing Popyrin to level them at 1-1 after an hour and 19 minutes.

Novak Djokovic, Australian Open 2024© Phil Walter / Staff - Getty Images Sport

After nine good holds in the third set, Novak served to prolong it at 4-5.

The veteran faced four set points and denied them with two winners and two mistakes from his rival that would cost Popyrin dearly. Novak landed two winners at 3-2 in the tie break and claimed it 7-4, moving two sets to one in front after two hours and 33 minutes.

Djokovic broke Popyrin at love in the sixth game of the fourth set and landed a service winner for 5-2. Alexei saved three match points on serve in game eight with winners and added two more to prolonged the battle. Novak held at 15 at 5-4 to emerge at the top and notch his 77th Rod Laver Arena victory.

The milestone 78th came versus Tomas Martin Etcheverry, beating the Argentine 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 in two hours and 29 minutes. Djokovic played better than in the first two rounds, hitting with more power and taming his strokes nicely.

Novak faced no break points in the entire duel, delivering three breaks in sets one and two and prevailing in the tie break in the third to emerge at the top. Tomas Martin wasted a game point at 2-3 in the opener and sprayed a forehand error to lose serve.

Novak missed a set point on the return in game eight before wrapping up the set with a hold at love for 6-3. Djokovic served well again in the second set and grabbed a break at 2-1 with a forehand return winner. The Serb earned three set points on the return in game nine, seizing the last for 6-3, 6-3 in 82 minutes.

Tomas Martin stayed in touch in the third set, following Novak's pace and introducing a tie break. Djokovic painted a forehand down the line winner in the first point and placed a deep return in the third point, causing the rival's mistake and moving 3-0 in front.

Novak fired a powerful backhand in the sixth point, passing Tomas Martin at the net and opening a 5-1 gap. Djokovic fired an ace for 6-2 and four match points and converted the first with another for a place in the last 16.

Novak Djokovic Serena Williams Tomas Martin Etcheverry
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