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Novak Djokovic beats Andreas Seppi, reaches 4th round at Aussie

MELBOURNE -- A five-time champion Down Under, even top-ranked Novak Djokovic has to make concessions.

Relegated to Margaret Court Arena for the first time in nine years, Djokovic took down No. 28 Andreas Seppi 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 (6) on Friday in the third round of the Australian Open.

Scheduled to play at the same time as WTA No. 1 Serena Williams, Djokovic appeared unaffected by the change of venue to start the match. The same couldn't be said for his coach, Boris Becker, who was still trying to find his seat as the first point was struck.

With a break-point opportunity in the second game, Djokovic threaded a backhand down the line and eventually took the opening frame in 25 minutes.

But what began as routine rout from Djokovic turned into a dogged 2-hour, 21-minute affair. He bounced his racket in frustration multiple times and looked to his box, pleading for answers.

Finally, at 5-5 in the second set, Djokovic won a spectacular 32-shot rally to break his opponent and subsequently held to take a commanding lead.

The third was even more competitive. Neither player relinquished serve, and in the tiebreaker, Seppi, who stunned Roger Federer here in the same round last year, actually held two set points, but the Italian tightened up, eventually netting a routine forehand to make it 6-6.

The final stroke, a 116 mph serve down the middle, sent Djokovic into the fourth round, where Gilles Simon, a 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 winner against Federico Delbonis, awaits.

"The match could have gone either way," Djokovic said in his on-court interview. "I didn't think it was going to be as easy after the first set. He was going to step up his game and make it more competitive."

For those trivia buffs, the last time Djokovic lost to player ranked outside the top 20 in a major came at the 2010 French Open against No. 27 Jurgen Melzer in five sets. Before that? Paul Goldstein here in Melbourne four years prior.

Incredibly, Djokovic, who improved his record against Seppi to 12-0, hasn't lost to an Italian opponent since Umag in 2004 (Filippo Volandri). Why?

"I like to play mind games with them," Djokovic quipped. "I speak Italian. I love Italy I guess."

And how about this nugget? Djokovic has now won his past 91 straight sets in the first three rounds of hard-court majors.

Djokovic enters this year's Aussie Open coming off one of the finest seasons in history. He became the fifth player in the Open era to win three majors in a single season. His 82-6 record was the sixth best ever.

In a later match, 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic, the 12th seed here, lost 6-4, 7-6 (5), 7-5 to Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain.

The win moved the 24th-seeded Bautista Agut into the round of 16 here to equal his best tournament -- and Grand Slam -- performance. He next will play sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych, who beat temperamental Australian Nick Kyrgios 6-3, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 in the third round.

Berdych, the 2010 Wimbledon finalist, has reached the semifinals at the past two Australian Open tournaments.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.