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Novak, the king of hours and fitness

sports Updated: Jan 21, 2013 01:40 IST
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Defending champion Novak Djokovic was dragged into a rerun of last year’s epic Australian Open final as he edged a gripping five-hour battle with Stanislas Wawrinka in the early hours of Monday.

As women’s No. 2 Maria Sharapova enjoyed the smoothest progress in tournament history, it was a very different story in the men’s competition as Djokovic was taken to five sets by the inspired Swiss.

Djokovic ripped off his shirt in celebration after finally clinching the 5hr 2min thriller at 1:41 am, evoking memories of last year’s 5hr 53min final with Rafael Nadal, the longest Grand Slam title match in history.

But it is questionable whether the Serbian world No. 1, who now faces Tomas Berdych, will be in sufficient shape to seal the first hat-trick of Australian Open titles of the professional era.

“It’s really hard to find the words to describe the feeling that we had tonight, especially in the fifth set,” he said. “He (Wawrinka) deserves equally to be the winner of this match.”

Wawrinka, the world No. 17, resembled his close friend Roger Federer as he smoothly ripped one-handed backhands on the way to breaking the stunned top seed three times in the first set.

Djokovic fought back to take the next two sets but Wawrinka clinched a fourth set tie-breaker to take it into a post-midnight decider.

Both players exchanged early breaks in the nerve-jangling fifth set but the score blew out to 11-10 and both players were limping and wincing before Djokovic finally clinched it 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 12-10.

Smashing record

Sharapova had no such problems as she clocked up her fifth 6-0 set score of the first week and blitzed Kirsten Flipkens 6-1, 6-0 to reach the quarters for the loss of just five games, smashing the tournament record.

Sharapova, who clinched the title in 2008, won her first two matches 6-0, 6-0, a double not achieved at a Slam since 1985, and then floored Venus Williams 6-1, 6-3. She beats the event record of eight games lost en route to the last eight, held by Monica Seles and Steffi Graf, and comes close to Mary Pierce’s all-Slam mark of four in reaching the 1994 French Open quarters.