By Greg Stutchbury
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic has been eager to quell expectations that he is hurtling towards a record-equalling sixth Australian Open title but a clinical performance against Andreas Seppi on Friday proved that he is still the man to beat.
The world number one, who is bidding to tie Roy Emerson on six titles, stepped closer to a potential semi-final showdown with Roger Federer with a 6-1 7-5 7-6(6) third round victory over Seppi.
The Italian was a potential banana skin for the Serb, having dumped Federer at the same stage last year, and Djokovic stamped his authority on the match early by racing out to a 5-0 lead.
While the scoreboard indicated a closely-fought contest, Djokovic sealed the important points, including saving two set points in the third set tiebreak.
“I must be pleased with a straight-set win because both sets, especially the third, could have gone a different way,” Djokovic told reporters after setting up a fourth round clash with French 14th seed Gilles Simon.
“I’m still not very satisfied with certain parts of the second and third set. I think I could have done better.
“But I played a quality player who took out Federer last year… he is not afraid to play big tennis on a big stage.”
Djokovic, who won three grand slams amongst his 11 titles last year, is also not afraid to play on a big stage having dominated the men’s game over the last five years.
Of the 20 grand slam tournaments played since 2011, the Serb has appeared in 15 finals, winning nine. He also made four other semi-finals and acknowledged expectations can create added pressure.
“The more you win actually the higher expectations are from yourself and from others,” he said.
“After the season that I’ve had, (the expectations are that) anything aside from a title or a final is not a success.
“I don’t need additional pressure because pressure is part of what we do and it’s already there.
“It’s present. It comes in big portions, especially in the grand slams.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Alison Williams and Pritha Sarkar)