Pumped-up defending champion Novak Djokovic survived an early test from dangerous American Frances Tiafoe, who pushed him to four gruelling sets while Marton Fucsovics saved three match points to knock out former champion Stan Wawrinka in the fifth-set tiebreak at the Australian Open on Wednesday.
The Serbian top seed looked in control after taking the first set, but lightning-quick Tiafoe, who reached the quarter-finals two years ago, refused to go quietly. He bounced back to take a close second set before Djokovic dug deep to emerge a 6-3, 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7/2), 6-3 winner and continue his relentless march towards a ninth Australian Open title.
He will next play another American, either Taylor Fritz or Reilly Opelka.
Late on in the day, Grigor Dimitrov continued his good start to the tournament with a convincing win against Australian Alex Bolt 7-6 (7/1), 6-1, 6-2.
Djokovic, who dropped only six games in his opening round clash, had never played Tiafoe, but quickly adapted. On a hot day, with ice towels being used for the first time at the tournament, he immediately broke to race into a 3-0 lead, but some uncharacteristically poor serving allowed the energetic American back in the set.
It was a stumble that rattled Djokovic who quickly broke again, pumping his fist in the air as he screamed at his box. Neither player gave an inch in the tight second set, with Tiafoe’s mix of power and unusual shots appearing to put Djokovic off his game as he came out on top in a tiebreak.
The Serb moved up a level in the third set, but so did Tiafoe as they traded blows until too many unforced errors ensured Djokovic took the set. They went shot-for-shot in the fourth until a glorious backhand gave Djokovic the crucial break for 4-3, with a frustrated Tiafoe slapped with a warning for swearing then double-faulting to hand the top seed the match.
Wawrinka, 35, struggled to match the intensity of Marton Fucsovics in the opening two sets but regrouped to stay in the fight.
On a scorching day, the 17th seed had three match points in the fifth set tiebreaker but blew them all, with the Hungarian reeling off five straight points for a famous 7-5, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 7-6 (11/9) win in just under four hours.
Fucsovics, ranked 55, last year equalled his best Grand Slam result in Melbourne when he reached the round of 16, only to be sent packing by Roger Federer.
He will now play Canadian 14th seed Milos Raonic, who beat France’s Corentin Moutet over four sets, for a place in the fourth round, where world No 1 Djokovic potentially awaits.
Last year’s finalist Dominic Thiem stepped up a gear to race past German Dominik Koepfer for the loss of just six games.
The third seed was in the zone on Margaret Court Arena, cruising through 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 to set up a blockbuster clash next with crowd favourite Nick Kyrgios, who saved two match points to beat French 29th seed Ugo Humbert 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 in the night session.
Left-hander Koepfer, ranked 70, had never before defeated a top-five opponent and was out of his depth in the 1hr 39mins mauling.
He gave Thiem a run for his money in the opening set but then self-imploded on a hot day with the Austrian dominating on his serve, returning well and owning the baseline.
Sixth seed Alexander Zverev ground past Maxime Cressy but he made heavy weather of ousting the qualifier.
The German, a semi-finalist last year who is gunning for a first Grand Slam title, struggled to snap the American’s resistance in a tight first set. He finally made a breakthrough in the 11th game to seal the set and went onto win 7-5, 6-4, 6-3 in 2hrs 4mins.
It was the second match in a row where Zverev has been less than clinical, after he was taken to four sets by 73rd-ranked Marcos Giron in the first round.
His reward is a tricky clash against France’s Adrian Mannarino, the 32nd seed who swept past Serb Miomir Kecmanovic 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
Eighth seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina wasted little time in reaching the last 32, brushing aside Frenchman Alexandre Muller 6-2, 6-0, 6-3 in an hour and 32 minutes on 1573 Arena.
Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) bt Frances Tiafoe (USA) 6-3, 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7/2), 6-3
Taylor Fritz (USA x27) bt Reilly Opelka (USA) 4-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/5), 6-2
Marton Fucsovics (HUN) bt Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI x17) 7-5, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 7-6 (11/9)
Milos Raonic (CAN x14) bt Corentin Moutet (FRA) 6-7 (1/7), 6-1, 6-1, 6-4
Pedro Martinez (ESP) bt Emil Ruusuvuori (FIN) 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7/5)
Dusan Lajovic (SRB x23) bt Alexander Bublik (KAZ) 6-4, 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 6-3
Adrian Mannarino (FRA x32) bt Miomir Kecmanovic (SRB) 6-1, 6-2, 6-4
Alexander Zverev (GER x6) bt Maxime Cressy (USA) 7-5, 6-4, 6-3
Dominic Thiem (AUT x3) bt Dominik Koepfer (GER) 6-4, 6-0, 6-2
Nick Kyrgios (AUS) bt Ugo Humbert (FRA x29) 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4
Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x18) bt Alex Bolt (AUS) 7-6 (7/1), 6-1, 6-2
Pablo Carreno-Busta (ESP x15) bt Jiri Vesely (CZE) 6-3, 7-6 (7/3), 2-6, 6-4
Denis Shapovalov (CAN x11) bt Bernard Tomic (AUS) 6-1, 6-3, 6-2
Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN x20) bt James Duckworth (AUS) 6-4, 6-1, 6-2
Aslan Karatsev (RUS) bt Egor Gerasimov (BLR) 6-0, 6-1, 6-0
Diego Schwartzman (ARG x8) bt Alexandre Muller (FRA) 6-2, 6-0, 6-3
With AFP Inputs
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