A ruthless Novak Djokovic ominously warned Monday his hamstring injury was on the mend after his "best day so far" at the Australian Open as he surged into a 13th Melbourne Park quarter-final.
The Serbian fourth seed demolished Alex de Minaur 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena to move a step closer to a 10th Australian title and 22nd major crown.
With his left thigh again strapped, the 35-year-old was a man on a mission, expending as little energy as possible in a 2hrs 6mins romp to inch within sight of Rafael Nadal's slam record.
Djokovic aggravated his hamstring during his run to a 92nd title at the Adelaide International this month and has been struggling with it since.
But he moved freely against De Minaur to set up a clash with fifth seed Andrey Rublev for a semi-final berth after the Russian toppled Danish teen Holger Rune in a tense five-set clash on the same court.
"I didn't feel anything today, so today was great," Djokovic, who will return to world number one for the first time since June if he wins the tournament, said of the hamstring.
"I thank my medical team, physio, God -- anybody that really helped me. I keep on going.
"Obviously I don't want to celebrate too early, I'm still in the tournament.
"I was feeling very good in the first match (in Melbourne), in the second match not so great, so I know things can change really quickly and I don't take things for granted.
"But I'm really pleased with the way I played today, the way I moved, the way I hit the ball. I played the best match of this year so far."
Djokovic added that he had been pumping himself full of anti-inflammatory pills "trying to mask the pain".
"But I had to find a way with my team. Today was the best day so far of the tournament and hopefully it stays that way."
- Very high level -
Victory put him into a 13th Melbourne quarter-final to move fourth on the all-time list behind Roger Federer, Nadal and John Newcombe.
It is his 54th Grand Slam quarter-final in total -- second only to the retired Federer's 58.
De Minaur, who recorded his first victory against a top-five player in November when he beat Daniil Medvedev at the Paris Masters, was always facing an uphill climb.
Djokovic has not lost in Melbourne since 2018 -- he did not play in 2022 -- and has now won 25 consecutive matches at the Australian Open.
"I came up against a very good opponent with a very high level today," said De Minaur.
"I think what I experienced today was probably Novak very close to his best, I would say. To me, if that's the level, I think he's definitely the guy that's going to take the title."
Djokovic always had the measure of the young Australian and broke to love in game six, consolidating without dropping a point for 5-2.
With De Minaur struggling under the pressure, he sent a baseline forehand long to hand the Serb another break and the set in just 35 minutes.
Only 54 percent of De Minaur's first serves went in, compared with Djokovic's 76 percent, with the winners 9-1 in favour of the dominant Serb.
De Minaur won the sixth game in the second set, ending a run of nine consecutive losses, but it was only a brief moment of respite.
Djokovic stretched his hamstring at the changeover and immediately applied pressure on De Minaur's first service game to break again in the third set, all but ending the match.