MELBOURNE, Australia — The bottom line on Sunday at the Australian Open was that Novak Djokovic prevailed over Gilles Simon, 6-3, 6-7 (1), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, to reach his 27th consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal.
But there was another line on the statistics sheet after this unexpectedly close fourth-round marathon that was even more eye-catching.
Djokovic, a relentless force from the baseline and the world’s most dominant player, finished with 100 unforced errors.
“That’s a good number for me, not for him,’’ said Simon, looking flushed and sounding wistful after four hours and 32 minutes of deep effort and deep thinking. “But, unfortunately, one more time it was not enough.”
If a clever man like Simon cannot upset Djokovic on a day that he makes 100 unforced errors, just when might a clever man pull it off?
The question is worth pondering, as is the state of Djokovic’s form and the potential impact of a match this grueling on his chances of defending his Australian Open title.
“Actually it gives me great joy to know that I can’t get worse than that, than what I played today,” Djokovic said. “It doesn’t concern me for the next one.”
The next one will be a quarterfinal match against Kei Nishikori of Japan. Nishikori, the No. 7 seed, defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, in a match that had none of the drama generated by Djokovic and the 14th-seeded Simon.
Djokovic has not failed to advance to the second week of a Grand Slam event since 2009, when he was beaten by Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round of the French Open and was not yet the all-court force with exceptional staying power that he has become.
The other quarterfinal in the top half of the draw will match Roger Federer against Tomas Berdych. Berdych needed five sets to defeat Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3. Federer then rolled past David Goffin of Belgium, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4, in the final match of the evening at Rod Laver Arena, with Laver himself in attendance.
Federer played inspired tennis, with: his racket work seeming more like brushwork in the first two sets.
“Right off the bat, when he starts the match winning 15 points a minute, it’s very complicated,” Goffin said of his opponent. “He goes very fast, and with two strikes of the ball he doesn’t leave me time to play, so it’s hard to get your bearings.”
Federer, 34, finished off Goffin in one hour and 28 minutes, completing his victory shortly after midnight. He had 39 winners and 20 unforced errors and then made it clear that unforced errors – above all Djokovic’s 100 — have their limits as a measuring stick.
“How much did you see Gilles Simon play?” Federer asked. “I’m just wondering because I think people miss the point of him. He plays every match like that. He makes you miss. He makes you go for the lines, and he runs down a lot of balls. A lot of points end in errors, if you like. This was five sets, so of course there’s going to be a lot of unforced errors piling up. The question is, if you have 50, 100, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter as long as you win.”
Federer, who lost to Djokovic in the finals of Wimbledon and United States Open last year, may get another crack at him here in the semifinals. But he does not think he can learn much from Simon’s close encounter, although perhaps others might.
“The whole way Gilles handles his game is totally different than mine,” Federer said. “It’s not possible for me to play that way. But what it can do for certain players is it can give them more hope and not make them think it’s finished already when they go on the court.”