Australian Open organisers have banished 10-time champion Novak Djokovic from the Rod Laver Arena night session for the first time in three years.
Djokovic’s fourth-round match against French 20th seed Adrian Mannarino has been scheduled for the second match at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday, not before 1.30pm AEDT.
Organisers have instead given local hope Alex de Minaur the feature slot with the Aussie’s clash against fifth seed Andrey Rublev set for primetime on Sunday night.
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Djokovic, the tournament’s top seed and overwhelming favourite, hasn’t played during the day at Melbourne Park since 2021. That’s 15 matches in a row at night.
“Not often Djokovic does not get his preferred night slot on Rod Laver Arena but they’ve bumped him to the day session tomorrow in favour of Alex De Minaur. If Demon and Novak both make the quarters that day/night schedule is going to be an interesting call,” Tennis journalist Neil McMahon said.
Djokovic will play a rare day match at Melbourne Park. Credit: Getty Images
If both de Minaur and Djokovic win and the other fourth round results go to the higher seed then the quarter-finals will be de Minaur against fourth seed Jannik Sinner and Djokovic against seventh seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.
If that does happen then which match gets the given the night slot will be very interesting indeed.
After booking his spot in the last 16 with a win over Italian qualifier Flavio Cobolli at John Cain Arena on Friday night, de Minaur was hoping to return to the main court.
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“I mean, I would love to play on RLA. Obviously that primetime slot is pretty special, and you’ve got to earn it,” he said.
“If the organisers decide to put me there, then I’ll be happy to play on it.
“But, yeah, ultimately doesn’t really matter when I play, whether I play first match, whether I play last.”
Physically primed and mentally set, de Minaur said he’s never been better placed to crash through the Australian Open fourth-round barrier.
De Minaur will take much more than a 3-2 winning record into his last-16 clash with Rublev on Sunday.
The 24-year-old will carry a career-high No.10 ranking, unshakable belief from his golden start to 2024 and peak fitness after needing just six hours and two minutes of court time to reach the second week.
Last year, de Minaur toiled for almost eight hours to progress to the same stage before being crushed by Djokovic in straight sets.
The year before, he needed a tad less but still proved no match for Jannik Sinner in a similarly lopsided last-16 loss.
It’s been a totally different story this campaign, with de Minaur handed a saloon passage to the second round when Canadian Milos Raonic walked off injured early in the third set.
That awkward cameo of an opener has proceeded two swift straight-set wins over Italians Matteo Arnaldi and Cobolli.
De Minaur marched into the Open fourth round. Credit: AAP
“I probably must be feeling the freshest I’ve been at this stage of the tournament,” de Minaur said.
“Obviously I got a little bit lucky with Milos pulling out. Therefore, the match wasn’t too long. Then I played two straight-sets wins that weren’t too long.
“Physically I’m feeling great. Now it’s just about giving all my energy for what’s to come.
“I say this because this is where I want to be. This is where the tail end of the tournament starts, the second week of slams.
“I’ve always been told that the first week of a slam is to get through however way you want to, and the second week is when you start to play your real tennis.
“Hopefully I can do that. Now the matches are all against, normally, better-ranked opponents. I’m looking forward to that.”
Rublev, a nine-times grand slam quarter-finalist, is indeed ranked five places above the 10th-seeded de Minaur.
But he’s certainly no Djokovic or Sinner, leaving the home hope with his best opportunity yet to reach the last eight of his home major.“We’ve played a few times over the years. We’ve also played at different stages of our careers,” de Minaur said of his rivalry with the Russian.
“Last year I got him in Rotterdam and he got me at the end of the year in Bercy. Both indoors. Both kind of solid conditions. Both tight matches.
“He’s got some immense firepower, and his forehand is deadly. It’s basically do your best to not allow him to hit forehands, especially from the middle of the court.
“That will probably be the game plan against him. I definitely can’t allow him to dictate. I’ve got to try and get him on the run.”
A fourth victory over Rublev would thrust de Minaur into a quarter-final against either the fourth-seeded Sinner or Russian world No.15 Karen Khachanov.
Not that he is looking beyond his next match.
“First of all, I’ll try to get a little bit better and beat my personal best, get to a quarter-finals,” de Minaur said.
“That’s the first step. I’ve made a couple fourth rounds in the past. I maybe have gotten to that point and not played the type of match I wanted to.
“I’m hoping I can break that barrier and go one further.”
– With AAP