Serbia’s Novak Djokovic hits a return against Spain’s Fernando Verdasco during their men’s singles match on day two of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / GREG WOOD /
Six-time champion Novak Djokovic doused big-hitting Spaniard Fernando Verdasco to win the opening match of his Australian Open title defence in Melbourne on Tuesday.
The indomitable Serb second seed avoided a potential first-round exit against Verdasco, who knocked out Rafael Nadal in last year’s first round.
Djokovic prevailed 6-1, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 in 2hr 20min on Rod Laver Arena to progress to a second-round encounter with Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin.
“I’m very pleased with the first round, considering I had one of the toughest first-round draws, definitely considering his form, how well he played against me in Doha,” Djokovic said.
“I think that I could have drawn an easier player.
“I mean, he’s a quality player, a former top 10. He beat Nadal in first round last year here. He’s a big match, big-time player.”
It was a tricky first-up match for the 12-time Grand Slam champion, who had lost to the Spaniard in four of their previous 13 meetings.
But Djokovic’s greater consistency and composure in the pressure moments of an intense match won him the day.
“I think from one perspective it was good that I got to have the very tough first-round match,” he said.
“It made me prepare better and approach this match and the tournament with the right intensity right from the blocks, right from the first point.”
Verdasco has not beaten the Serb for almost seven years, with his last triumph in the quarter-finals at Rome in 2010, although he held five match points in their most recent meeting this month in Doha before Djokovic went on to win the tournament.
Djokovic is seeded to face Brisbane International winner Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round, powerful Austrian eighth seed Dominic Thiem in the quarters and Canada’s big-serving third seed Milos Raonic in the semi-finals in the bottom half of the men’s draw.
He can take outright ownership of the record for Australian titles if he wins for a seventh time. The Serb is currently tied with Australia’s Roy Emerson on six.
Djokovic got off to a flyer with a double service break to clean up the opening set for the loss of just one game in 31 minutes.
Both players traded service breaks in four straight games before the second set went to a tiebreaker. Djokovic’s greater consistency and Verdasco’s erratic groundstrokes gave the Serb the tiebreaker and a 2-0 sets lead.
“He was on top of it. I just didn’t want to give him too much of a chance to step in and kind of dictate the play. In second set, it was very close,” Djokovic said.
Djokovic cranked it up in the third set, breaking Verdasco’s opening service which he carried through to win on his first match point.