Novak Djokovic admitted to having breathing difficulties during his win over David Ferrer at the Australian Open but insisted it would not hamper his chances against Andy Murray in tomorrow morning’s semi-final.
Djokovic cut an unhappy figure for much of his match against the Spaniard despite winning 6-4 7-6 (7/4) 6-1 to keep his title defence on track.
Earlier, Murray had brushed aside the challenge of Kei Nishikori to ease into his third successive semi-final in Melbourne and a repeat of last year’s final.
World No 1 Djokovic, who has previously undergone sinus surgery, revealed afterwards he had been struggling for air.
“I found it very difficult after a long time to breathe because I felt the whole day my nose was closed a little bit,” he said.
“I just wasn’t able to get enough oxygen. I needed more time which I didn’t have, but in these conditions, at this stage of the tournament, when you’re playing someone like David, your physical strength and endurance come into question.
“But I am not too concerned about that at all.
“I’m really fit and I have no concerns of recovering for the next match. It’s just a matter of breathing better through the nose.”
Given his problems, it was a remarkable performance from Djokovic.
Fifth seed Ferrer, as always, was a game opponent but lacked the weapons to trouble the Serbian.
“It was a great match, we played for almost three hours – I think the first 30 minutes was just for the first two games,” Djokovic added.
“I was lucky to get out of the second set and that was a big mental advantage to go two sets up.”
It was a result which further emphasised the gulf between the top four players and the rest as a struggling Djokovic beat the fifth best player in the world convincingly.
The second set tie-break proved the pivotal moment of the match.
Ferrer led 4-2 but Djokovic showed great resolve to battle back and claim the next five points and finish the set with his first fist pump of the night.
The third set was a cruise as Djokovic finally freed his shoulders and Ferrer wilted.
World No 4 Murray was rarely troubled by his Japanese opponent, winning 6-3 6-3 6-1 in two hours and 12 minutes, as he maintained his smooth progress.
Murray will have better days on serve – he got just 44 per cent of first serves into play – but, that aside, there was little room for improvement in a good all-round performance.
“It was a good match, a lot of fun points, most of them he was winning so I was trying to keep them as short as possible,” said Murray.
“But I need to serve better, I didn’t serve particularly well but the returning was good so that was a positive.
“My game has been getting better each match and I am moving better and I am going to be fresh going into the weekend.”
Nishikori, the first player from Japan to reach the last eight here in 80 years, showed glimpses of his potential but, like Murray’s previous opponent Mikhail Kukushkin, seemed fatigued by his efforts in previous rounds.
The 22-year-old from Shimane had spent four hours more on court than Murray in reaching this stage and it showed.
Murray had described his fourth-round defeat of Kukushkin as “boring” and “pointless” due to the Kazakh’s hip injury which prevented it from being a genuine contest.
While he took greater enjoyment from the win over Nishikori he revealed he was suffering from a minor ailment. “I had a sore neck when I woke up – I don’t know if my serve had something to do with that. I have been serving well and been getting a lot of free points on it. I’ll work on it and get the rhythm back.”
Nishikori gave his all but Murray’s greater weight of shot and superior fitness were decisive.
“There were quite a few good rallies. A lot of the long points, the fun rallies he was winning, he came up with some great shots,” said the Scot. “But I was just a little bit more solid and probably had a little bit more in the tank.”