Djokovic sprints into last 16 at Australian Open

by Greg Stutchbury, Reuters

Posted at Jan 21 2012 05:15 PM | Updated as of Jan 22 2012 01:20 AM

MELBOURNE - World number one Novak Djokovic praised the battling spirit of Nicolas Mahut after he thrashed the injured Frenchman 6-0 6-1 6-1 in 74 minutes on Saturday to reach the Australian Open last 16.

Mahut, who was involved in an epic 11-hour match against John Isner at Wimbledon in 2010, turned 30 on Saturday and was battling with a left knee injury that severely restricted his movement in their third round match on Rod Laver Arena, something that Djokovic ruthlessly exploited.

Djokovic was relentless from the baseline, passing Mahut virtually at will and banging back deep service returns the Frenchman had no chance of returning with his movement hindered due to heavy strapping on his knee.

"Obviously I feel for my opponent, who evidently could not move on the court," Djokovic said. "He could not get over, you know, into the rally two, three strokes.

"I think most of the people expected him to just retire the match and walk out of the court," he added, mindful of the fact two previous matches on Rod Laver Arena had lasted little more than a total of two hours.

"But he managed to stay. So all the credit for him."

Djokovic used the blue hard courts at Melbourne Park to launch a spectacular 2011 when he won three grand slam titles and vaulted to the world's top ranking, but he said on Saturday he felt he was playing even better this year.

"The bottom line is that I'm 24. I feel that I'm playing the best tennis of my life," Djokovic said. "I'm at the peak. So I should use every moment and enjoy my tennis."

Too good

The Serb has barely been troubled in the first week of the year's first grand slam, conceding just 10 games in his three matches so far and he said that would only help as he moved into the second week and tougher matches.

"The positive out of this first week is obviously my performance has been great. I don't think that I need to work particularly in some shots of the game. Maybe just serve and maybe a little fitness, just get ready for the second week.

"I didn't spend that much time on the court. I don't think I'm lacking any match play. I don't think I'm lacking any practice. I've had lots of practice in the last five, six weeks.

"Right now I just want to take one match at a time, focus on the next one, and use this, well, physical, let's say freshness, that I have in this moment."

Mahut, who was presented with a cake by tournament organizers to celebrate his birthday, agreed that Djokovic was probably playing the best tennis of his life and would probably "come close" to the title again.

"I think a lot of people have trouble with Djokovic," he said. "I did my best but I played against the best player in the world.

"He was just too good."