Novak Djokovic was in a ruthless mood on Sunday. After 67 minutes, he took a devastating 6-0, 6-0 lead over Adrian Mannarino and, resigned to his inevitable fate, the Frenchman chose to see the funny side. He looked helplessly up at his box and laughed, holding his fingers to his eyes like binoculars in a nod to the woeful scoreline.
Who could blame him really? What else was there to do? The 10-time champion Djokovic was a man working at the peak of his powers in his march towards a 14th quarter-final at the Australian Open, winning 6-0, 6-0, 6-3.
At one point, he was just five games away from a triple ‘bagel’, an extremely rare score which has not happened at a major in 30 years.
— Eurosport (@eurosport) January 21, 2024
To win in this manner is not a familiar feeling for many players – even Djokovic. Only twice before has he won the first two sets of a five-setter without dropping a game. His first experience was a victory over Robby Ginepri nearly 19 years ago at the 2005 French Open, the match finishing 6-0, 6-0, 6-3. His last was at the 2011 US Open, when he beat Carlos Berlocq 6-0, 6-0, 6-2 in the second round. That level of dominance was strange territory to be in, and he admitted it caused a little bit of “tension” on Sunday.
“The tension in the third set, it was so big, whether he’s going to win a game or not. [The] crowd wanted him to win a game and be in the match. I almost felt like it’s good to give away the game, just to be able to reset and refocus because the tension is growing as more the match progresses without him winning a game.
“Of course, it’s tough for him, but also for me to be able to kind of not think about that, not think about the triple bagel. So, yeah, I was happy that got that out of the way, one-all third set, then kind of focused on what I need to do to close out the match.”
Those inner thoughts manifested themselves in Djokovic briefly engaging with the crowd again. At 30-all in the first game of the third set, the crowd were urging Mannarino to win a game. Djokovic responded by hammering down an unreturned serve and blew a kiss to one loud fan who had attempted to interrupt his focus.
In the next service game he turned his attention to the umpire, arguing that he had started the serve clock too soon as the crowd were still cheering on Mannarino. The competitive fire was burning bright for Djokovic, despite the very one-sided scoreline, and he made just 15 unforced errors on his way to this win.
Mannarino, it must be said, had spent nearly 12 hours on court before this match, battling through three consecutive five-setters. He no doubt was feeling those miles in his 35-year-old legs, and made more mistakes than usual.
He has been enjoying some of his best results in this late stage of his career, winning four titles over the past two seasons, but Mannarino has never been a match for Djokovic, losing all four of their previous meetings. It had, however, never been as uneven as this.
The Frenchman lacks power in his game – hence his very unconventional loose string tension – and instead pushes his ball around the court, trying to outmanoeuvre his opponent with tight-angled shots.
Djokovic is one of the best movers to have ever played the game though and he came up with all the answers, using his court craft to stay in points and demolish Mannarino’s game plan.
The 10-time champion began this tournament in bad form by his standards, and there were question marks about his fitness. But this victory will dispel any doubts. The next test will be Taylor Fritz in the last eight on Tuesday, after the top American beat Stefanos Tsitsipas.