Novak Djokovic relying on 'pills and hot cream' amid brutal schedule

Novak Djokovic urges Australian Open officials to reconsider brutal scheduling – as the Serb is forced to rely on ‘pills and hot cream’ ahead of match against Alex de Minaur

  • Nine-time Australian Open champ Novak Djokovic leading calls for change 
  • The Melbourne Park tournament has seen a raft of very late finishes 
  • He revealed he is relying on ‘pills and cream’ to get him through tournament 

After some brutal scheduling that’s seen matches finish as late as 4am, Novak Djokovic has joined the chorus of players and pundits pleading with Australian Open officials to change their approach.

The 35-year-old Serb, who is set to take on Aussie star Alex de Minaur in the fourth round on Monday, joined Andy Murray in urging tournament director Craig Tiley to consider starting the night session earlier after a raft of late finishes.

Murray, a five-time finalist at the Australian Open, crashed out of the tournament on Saturday night after a dogged four-set loss to Roberto Bautista Agut.

A relieved Novak Djokovic celebrates his win over Grigor Dimitrov in the third round

He was backing up after a hellish 4.05am finish to Thanasi Kokkinakis on Friday, and given no player has ever won a singles match at the Open after winning a previous encounter that finished after 2am, Murray was always up against it.

He needed five sets and almost six hours to get past Aussie fan favourite Kokkinakis in the second round and said the scheduling needs changing.

‘I’m sure if you went and spoke to some sleep experts and sports scientists etc, the people that actually really know what’s important for athletes to recover, they would tell you that sleep is the number one thing. That that’s the most important thing,’ Murray said after the loss on Saturday night.

‘Finishing matches at four in the morning isn’t good for the players.

‘I would also argue it’s not good for the sport, anyone involved in it. I do think there’s some quite simple things that can be done to change that,’ said Murray.

Djokovic was in agreeance with his longtime friend and on-court rival. 

Novak Djokovic reacts after winning a point against Grigor Dimitrov in his win on Saturday night. The Serb will now take on Alex de Minaur in the fourth round

Djokovic struggled with his left leg injury throughout the match against Dimitrov, and admits he is relying on ‘pills and hot cream’ to get through the tournament

The king of Melbourne Park, who is looking to secure his tenth Australian Open crown, said the input of players such as himself should be taken into account by officials responsible for scheduling Down Under.

‘For the crowd, it’s entertaining, it’s exciting, to have matches (at) midnight, 1, 2, 3am. For us, it’s really gruelling,’ said Djokovic.

‘Even if you go through and win, prevail in these kind of matches, you still have to come back. You have your sleeping cycle, rhythm disrupted completely, not enough time really to recover for another five-setter.

‘Yeah, something needs to be addressed in terms of the schedule after what we’ve seen this year.

‘Players’ input is always important for tournament organisation. Whether it’s decisive, we know that it’s not because it comes down to what the TV broadcasters want to have. That’s the ultimate decision maker,’ said the Serb.

Murray had the same idea as Djokovic, with the Scot hoping to see the Australian Open organisers follow their US counterparts, who only have two matches in the day session on show courts. 

Andy Murray crashed out of the Australian Open after a four-set loss to Roberto Bautista Agut on Saturday, after he was forced to back up after a 4am finish. The Scot is calling for changes to the brutal scheduling

‘That (two matches) would stop the day matches running into the night session starting too late. I think that’s quite a simple one that you could look at,’ he said.

‘You’d still get quality matches during the day. The people who bought ground passes would get to see more of the top players, which would be excellent for them.

‘If you did that, you could also potentially bring the night sessions slightly earlier, as well, like 6.00 or 6.30pm.

‘That time, those few hours, can make a difference to the players. That’s something that’s probably worth, yeah, considering moving forwards,’ said an exhausted Murray.

Djokovic is dealing with exhaustion of his own, thanks to his left leg. 

The veteran has required several medical timeouts to make it through the first three rounds, and it means he is relying on ‘pills and hot cream’ to take on the 23-year-old Aussie in the fourth round.

Novak Djokovic reaches for his ankle during his win over Grigor Dimitrov. The Serb has been forced to use multiple injury timeouts during the tournament

Djokovic falls during the match against Dimitrov, struggling with various left leg ailments

‘It (left leg injury) kind of always starts well in last few matches and then some movement happens and then it gets worse,’ the fourth seed said.

‘Yeah, pills kick in, some hot cream and stuff. That works for a little bit, then it doesn’t, then works again. It’s really a roller coaster, honestly.

‘It requires a lot of energy that is being spent from my side mentally and physically, as well, to deal with the match with my opponent and also with not ideal physical state,’ said Djokovic.

Unbeaten in Australia for five years and 37 matches, Djokovic, even while hampered by the injury, is a heavy favourite to progress to the Open’s last eight for a 13th time on Monday.

He plans to draw on the experience of taking on Lleyton Hewitt and the Melbourne Park crowd when he faces tennis speed demon de Minaur for his customary spot in the quarter-finals.

But he certainly won’t be the fans’ favourite in the fourth-round blockbuster with de Minaur carrying the hopes of a nation as the last Australian standing in the singles draw.

Aussie hero Alex de Minaur said he is looking forward to the support of his home crowd as he prepares to take on Djokovic

The Aussie needs no added motivation as he chases a place in the quarter-finals of his home slam for the first time, and knows having the support of the Rod Laver Arena crowd can be a big factor.

‘It’s no secret that I love playing here in my backyard. The Aussie crowd is amazing. They’ve had my back from day dot,’ said de Minaur.

‘My opponents not only have to play against me but they’ve got to play against me and the whole crowd, right?’

Djokovic, who has become a fan favourite himself given his extraordinary success Down Under over the years, knows exactly what the Melbourne Park crowd can bring.

A Djokovic fans waves a flag at the Serb’s match against Dimitrov

‘I’m sure that the atmosphere will be electric and he’s (de Minaur) going to have a lot of support, and he’s going to be pumped to try to win the match,’ said the nine-time champion.

‘But I’ve had experiences before. I played Lleyton Hewitt here. I played some big Aussie players, so I know how that feels. I know what to expect.’

Of more concern to Djokovic than the crowd is de Minaur’s lightning speed around the court, while he continues to struggle with his left hamstring.

Alex de Minaur’s (pictured returning a serve against Benjamin Bonzi in his third round win) speed will make life tough for Djokovic as he deals with a leg injury

‘Obviously de Minaur is one of the quickest players on the tour – probably the quickest guy,’ he said.

‘He has improved a lot and obviously he has Lleyton Hewitt in his corner, a multiple grand slam winner, (former) No.1 in the world. That’s a great team.

‘The fact that I never faced him is also challenging,’ said Djokovic.

That fans may get the opportunity to see Djokovic is something in itself.

The Serb, who many thought may never be able to return to Australia’s grand slam after he was deported ahead of last year’s tournament over his anti-vaccination views, thought his leg injury would be the reason he wouldn’t play in the 2023 edition. 

Novak Djokovic has won nine Australian Open titles and is still well in the mix for a tenth despite his leg injury

‘It (injury) is what it is. It’s kind of a circumstances that you have to accept. I’m just very grateful that I’m actually able to play,’ Djokovic said.

‘The way it looked just before the tournament started, I thought that it wouldn’t be possible. I’m still here and still holding on.’

Djokovic or de Minaur will play either Russian fifth seed Andrey Rublev or Danish world No.10 Hulger Rune on Wednesday for a place in the semi-finals – and Melbourne Park will love it either way, no doubt.

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