Novak Djokovic survives another test to advance in Australia

Ten-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic survived his second straight tough challenge to advance to the third round in Melbourne on Wednesday.

With the match tied at a set apiece, Djokovic fought off four set points during the critical third set to take command and defeated home-country favorite Alexei Popyrin 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3.

This three-hour, 11-minute battle followed Djokovic’s four-set win against Dino Prizmic in the first round.

“I haven’t been playing my best, I’m still trying to find my form,” Djokovic, 36, said.

“Particularly in the early rounds, you play players that have nothing to lose really. They come out on the center court and try to play their best match, their best tennis, and I think both my first- and second-round opponents were great quality tennis players. I managed to find a way to win in four. That’s what counts in the end, and hopefully I’ll be able to build as this tournament progresses.”

Just as in his four-hour opener against Prizmic, an 18-year-old Croatian, Djokovic struggled against Popyrin, 24. Still, Djokovic managed to extend his Australian Open streak to 30 straight wins.

He won 82 percent (60/73) of points on his first serve but balanced 31 winners against 32 unforced errors.

In the third round, the top-seeded Serbian will meet No. 30 seed Tomas Martin Etcheverry of Argentina, who defeated Gael Monfils of France 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

Other top-10 seeds advancing to the third round were No. 5 Andrey Rublev of Russia, a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 winner over Christopher Eubanks; No. 7 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who dropped the first set before dispatching Australian Jordan Thompson, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-2, 7-6 (4); and No. 10 Alex de Minaur of Australia, a straight-sets winner over Italian Matteo Arnaldi.

Tsitsipas saved four set points while serving at 5-6 in the fourth set to force the tiebreak.

“At this very moment, I only remember the last point, the way it finished,” Tsitsipas said on the court after his win. “The adrenaline and the rush that I got out of this match was insane tonight. You live for these kinds of matches.”

Rublev will meet No. 29 Sebastian Korda in the third round, while Tsitsipas will face Luca van Assche of France.

Other winners Wednesday were a pair of Americans, No. 12 Taylor Fritz and No. 16 Ben Shelton, as well as No. 15 Karen Khachanov of Russia, No. 20 Adrian Mannarino of France and No. 26 Sebastian Baez of Argentina.

No. 17 Frances Tiafoe was upset in straight sets by unseeded Czech Tomas Machac.