Prime time Demon: Djokovic snubbed in three-year AO first as Aussie’s clash with world No.5 gets night-time nod
Alex de Minaur’s blockbuster fourth-round clash with Russian fifth seed Andrey Rublev has been given the prime time treatment by Australian Open organisers, with the final Aussie standing in the singles draw scheduled to play in the night session at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday.
Having been moved to third court John Cain Arena for his third-round win over Italian qualifier Flavio Cobolli on Friday to enable world No.1 Novak Djokovic to play the prime-time slot on the main court, the decision means the ten-time Australian Open champion will 20th seed Adrian Mannarino in the afternoon session.
It’s the first time Djokovic has needed to play during the day at Melbourne Park since 2021, with his entire 2023 campaign and first three rounds of 2024 all coming at night – his stated preferred time to play.
It ends a run of 15 consecutive night matches at Rod Laver Arena, making the Serbian champion’s quest to secure a fourth title in five years around his controversial 2022 deportation all the tougher.
The scheduling confirms de Minaur’s status as the hottest ticket in town, with the Australian giant-killer looking to secure his fourth win over a top-ten player already in 2024 against Rublev.
The 24-year old defeated Djokovic, Taylor Fritz and Alexander Zverev during the United Cup to burst into the top 10 for the first time himself, and has a positive record against the Russian star, leading their head-to-head 3-2.
However, Rublev won their most recent encounter in three sets at the 2023 Paris Masters.
Following his third-round win, de Minaur said he would love to ‘earn’ the right to play on the main court in a prime time slot, as he did during his first-round win over Milos Raonic on Monday (Djokovic played on Sunday night).
“Playing on a different court today made it a little bit tricky for me to find my footing and my timing in certain shots,” de Minaur said after defeating Cobolli, having claimed John Cain Arena was ‘a little bit slower’ than the main court.
“I would love to play on RLA. Obviously that prime time slot is pretty special and you’ve got to earn it.
“If the organisers decide to put me there, then I’ll be happy to play on it – but ultimately it doesn’t really matter when I play – whether I play first match, whether I play last, whether I play on RLA or court 27.”
De Minaur will be hoping to end both his winless fourth-round record at Melbourne Park, having lost in 2022 and 2023 to Jannik Sinner and Djokovic respectively.
He is yet to win a set in the round of 16 at his home slam, either, with both those loses coming in crushing style.
However, having dropped just one set thus far at the Open – the first against Raonic, who retired during the third set due to a hip issue – de Minaur says he is still cherry-ripe.
“I probably must be feeling the freshest I’ve been at this stage of the tournament,” he said.
“Obviously I got a little bit lucky with Milos pulling out. Therefore, the match wasn’t too long. Then I played two straight-sets wins that weren’t too long.
“Physically I’m feeling great. Now it’s just about giving all my energy for what’s to come.
“I say this because this is where I want to be. This is where the tail end of the tournament starts, the second week of slams.
“I’ve always been told that the first week of a slam is to get through however way you want to, and the second week is when you start to play your real tennis.
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“Hopefully I can do that. Now the matches are all against, normally, better-ranked opponents. I’m looking forward to that.
“First of all, I’ll try to get a little bit better and beat my personal best, get to a quarter-finals – that’s the first step.
“I’ve made a couple fourth rounds in the past. I maybe have gotten to that point and not played the type of match I wanted to.
“I’m hoping I can break that barrier and go one further.”