Djokovic digs in to take out Hewitt
Novak Djokovic remains firmly on course for a semi-final clash with Andy Murray at the Australian Open after overcoming a stubborn challenge from Lleyton Hewitt.
Hewitt was last man standing of the home contingent and had the vocal support under the lights on Rod Laver Arena. The Australian scrapper did not let his fans down by fighting hard for every point, but he came up against a supreme athlete who dug in to claim a 6-1 6-3 4-6 6-3 victory.
Djokovic was aware of the need to take the crowd out of the equation by stifling Hewitt early and he did just that by racing into a 4-0 lead in the first set. Some inspired hitting from Hewitt earned a break, but the world No. 1 puffed out his chest to break back immediately. He squandered one set point with a double fault, suggesting he is in fact human, but normal service was resumed two points later as an ace wrapped up the opening set in 31 minutes.
Djokovic stamped on Hewitt at the start of the second, working an immediate break, but the Australian raised the crowd from their slumber by breaking back immediately.
Hewitt failed to take advantage of exposing a chink in Djokovic's armour as he was broken back immediately, with the Serb producing one of the points of the tournament with a stunning lob that caught the line despite being wrong-footed by what would have been against most players, a winning approach.
After claiming the second set the Djokovic juggernaut powered on at the start of the third, as he secured an early break of serve. With public transport shutting down for the evening, the crowd could have been forgiven for heading for the exit. But Hewitt gave them a reason to stay on by getting the third set back on serve at 3-3.
Hewitt continued to battle and broke at 5-4 to serve for the third set. The Australian squandered three set points, as Djokovic teed off on a hat-trick of weak second serves, and then saved a break point with an exquisite drop shot. At the fourth time of asking Hewitt came up with a first serve that was required and Djokovic found the middle of the net. Hewitt pumped his fist and the crowd rose to their feet.
Djokovic appeared rattled at the start of the fourth set, as wild strikes on both wings showed the composure of the first two and a half sets had disappeared, but he steadied the nerves with a strong hold for 3-2 and blitzed the Hewitt serve to claim the key break.
The break sapped the belief from Hewitt and drained the energy from the crowd. Djokovic did what was required by backing up his break with a strong hold and two games later he was celebrating a tense victory.
David Ferrer is up next for Djokovic after he eased into the quarter finals courtesy of a 6-4 6-4 6-1 win over a below-par Richard Gasquet.