Australian Open on tenterhooks over Djokovic injury as stands fall silent

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Novak Djokovic in action at the ATP event in Vienna.
Novak Djokovic in action at the ATP event in Vienna.
Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images

World number one Novak Djokovic sought medical advice over his potentially tournament-ending injury on Saturday as the Australian Open fell eerily quiet after fans were barred for a snap coronavirus lockdown.

The record eight-time winner, 33, grimaced through a five-set win over Taylor Fritz late on Friday and afterwards said he had torn an abdominal muscle, and wasn't sure he could play his next match.

Djokovic's injury came during a bizarre third-round encounter which was suspended at 11:30 pm (12:30 GMT) to clear fans from Rod Laver Arena before the state-wide lockdown began at midnight.

Six million people in Victoria state including Melbourne, Australia's second-biggest city, are under a five-day lockdown after an outbreak of the highly contagious UK strain at an airport hotel.

It brought an abrupt halt to the return of big crowds to tennis matches for the first time since the pandemic, which ripped up the 2020 schedule and forced tournaments behind closed doors.

More than 22,000 fans attended day five on Friday, the largest number so far but still below the maximum of 30,000, which was set to enable social distancing.

Players, deemed "essential workers" and exempted from the lockdown, were ordered into a biosecure "bubble" to allow the tournament to continue.

It is just the latest coronavirus disruption for the season's first Grand Slam, which started three weeks late to allow players to quarantine.

The Australian Open, the biggest international sports event so far this year, is seen as a test case for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which are scheduled to start in July after a year's delay.

'Different vibe'

The loss of Djokovic would be another blow for the tournament, reducing the men's 'Big Three' to just one -- Rafael Nadal -- with Roger Federer already sidelined by injury.

The Serb said he was in "huge pain" and believed he had torn an abdominal muscle after stretching for a return at the start of the third set against Fritz.

Djokovic said he was "definitely not training" on Saturday and would instead go for ultrasound treatment and an evaluation from medical experts.

"(I will then) understand what's really going on, so that the doctor and medical team can prescribe the best possible treatment, and the only (way) that I could even have the slightest chance to go out in less than 48 hours," he said late on Friday.

Djokovic is scheduled to face big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic in the last 16, a player against whom he has never lost.

As play got under way in Melbourne Park's empty arenas on Saturday, former world number one Karolina Pliskova had a racquet-smashing tantrum en route to a 7-5, 7-5 defeat by fellow Czech Karolina Muchova.

Ukrainian fifth seed Elina Svitolina beat Yulia Putintseva 6-4, 6-0, and Russia's men's fourth seed Daniil Medvedev overcame buttock pain and a mid-match lapse in his 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 3-6, 6-0 win over Filip Krajinovic of Serbia.

"It's a different atmosphere, different vibe," said Greece's world number six Stefanos Tsitsipas, after his 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 win over Mikael Ymer.

"But if I can win my next matches, the crowd will be back. It's just five days, and I'll be happy to see them back."

Tsitsipas beat Ymer in a silent John Cain Arena -- which was packed with thousands of noisy fans late on Friday for Australian player Nick Kyrgios's defeat by Dominic Thiem.

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