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As stars fall all around, Open has one big showdown left when Demon meets Joker


Alex de Minaur won’t die wondering when he takes on the toughest assignment in tennis on Monday night: Novak Djokovic at Melbourne Park.

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The indomitable nine-time champion stands between de Minaur and a spot in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for the first time.

The 23-year-old is ever respectful of the 21-time major winner, but certainly not fearful entering the fourth-round blockbuster on Rod Laver Arena.

Nor will de Minaur be dwelling on the fact Djokovic is managing a hamstring issue that has required medical treatment through his opening three matches this campaign.

“Look, I’m not going to read into too much of that injury,” de Minaur said.

“Ultimately he’s one of the best players in the world, and I’m just going to have to take it to him and not shy away from the occasion.

“I’m going to make sure to make it as tough as I can and just bring the recent experience I’ve had on court and how I’ve been feeling.

“Just ultimately it’s not shy away from the opportunity and the occasion. I mean, these are the matches I want.

“It’s going to be exciting. I will get fired up, get the crowd behind me, and I’ll definitely have a good time.”

Djokovic is unbeaten at Melbourne Park since a third-round loss in 2018.

The Serb has encountered – and overcome – all manner of challenges on his beloved Laver Arena and is ready for a new one in de Minaur.

“Obviously de Minaur is one of the quickest players on the tour – probably the quickest guy,” Djokovic 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.

“I’m sure that the atmosphere will be electric and he’s going to have a lot of support, and he’s going to be pumped to try to win the match.

“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.”

Djokovic or de Minaur will meet Russian fifth seed Andrey Rublev or Danish world No.10 Hulger Rune on Wednesday for a place in the semi-finals.

Monday’s remaining two men’s fourth-round matches feature Spanish world No.25 Roberto Bautista-Agut against unseeded American Tommy Paul and the all-US battle between Ben Shelton and JJ Wolf.

Women’s world No.4 Caroline Garcia and fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka also continue their title quests on day eight.

Garcia plays Magda Linette and Sabalenka faces Swiss 12th seed Belinda Bencic in a showdown between this month’s two Adelaide International champions.

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