Defending champion, Novak Djokovic recovered from a third-set wobble to take down Jan-Lennard Struff and move into the second round of the Australian Open on Monday night.
Ranked 37th in the world and coming off a career-best season, Struff was one of the toughest first round opponents Djokovic could have drawn, and the big-hitting German showed glimpses of his quality with a battling performance against the world No. 2.
However, Djokovic responded in emphatic fashion to the loss of the third set, racing through the fourth to complete a 7-6 6-2 2-6 6-1 victory after two hours and 16 minutes. It was a milestone victory for the Serbian, who became just the sixth man to reach 900 career wins.
“[With 900 wins], I am just starting”, Djokovic joked. “I am obviously very proud of all the achievements, but at the same time I try to remind myself of how grateful I have to be, still playing on a very high level the sport that I truly love”.
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Djokovic started well, jumping out to a 5-2 lead, but he was reeled in by his German opponent, and needed a tie break to eke out the opening set. He rode that momentum into the second set, racing through 6-2, but just when it seemed the seven-time champion would cruise to a straight-set win, Struff launched an impressive fightback.
Stepping into the court and taking control with his heavy forehand, Struff powered back into the match, and sealed the set off consecutive double faults by Djokovic. Stung into action by the loss of that set, Djokovic dominated the rest of the match to claim a third win in three matches against Struff, and reach the second round of the Australian Open for a 14th consecutive year.
“It is great to be back in this arena that has a very special place in my heart,” said Djokovic, who struck 44 winners and 28 unforced errors against Struff. “This has been by far my most successful court in my career and I love coming back to Australia.”
The world No. 2 improves to 7-0 for the season, having won all of his six singles matches at the inaugural ATP Cup to inspire Serbia to victory at the season-opening team tournament. The great Serbian is not only bidding for a record-extending eighth Australian Open title, but also a 17th major title, which would push him closer to all-time leaders, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have 20 and 19 Slams respectively.
He could well go head-to-head with Federer in the semi-finals, but there’s still plenty of tennis to be played before then. Next up for Djokovic is a second-round meeting with either Japan’s Tatsumo Ito or Indian, Prajnesh Gunneswaran.