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Novak Djokovic wins 77 per cent of his first-serve points against Jan-Lennard Struff on Monday.

Djokovic: 'I Pray To Have Serving Days Like I Had Today'

World No. 2 struck 14 aces in his first-round win

Seven-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic battled through a tough four-set test against big-serving German Jan-Lennard Struff on Monday in Melbourne. But while his win was unsurprising, what perhaps wasn’t predictable was that the Serbian would hit more aces, 14-13.

“Goran’s influencing me a little bit,” Djokovic said of one of his coaches, Goran Ivanisevic, one of only four players to hit 10,000 aces. “Of course we talked about [my] serve a lot and some other parts of my game where I can improve and maybe get some more free points if possible. I think throughout my career, my serve was maybe a little bit underestimated because of the quality of the return and baseline play. But the serve has actually given me quite a lot of free points in important matches and big tournaments throughout my career.”

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In 2019, Djokovic finished the season fourth on the ATP Tour in second-serve points won (57%), and 12th on Tour behind his first delivery (75.9%). It’s just two years ago that the 16-time major winner was struggling with an elbow injury, leading him to temporarily change his service mechanics. But as Djokovic showed against Struff, it’s a potent weapon.

“In the past year, year and a half, I feel great serving,” Djokovic said. “Obviously I pray to have serving days like I had today all the time. It’s not possible. But I know I can back up my serve with good game from the back of the court.”

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Djokovic had not lost a set in his Australian Open opener since 2006, when he lost in the first round against Paul Goldstein. But historically, battling through tough openers has proven anything but detrimental for the Serbian. The past three occasions on which Djokovic has lost at least one set in the first round of a major — which goes back to the 2010 US Open — he has gone on to make the final or win the title.

“I actually like tough first rounds, in Grand Slams particularly. Historically I’ve had lots of success in Grand Slams where I had tough opponents in the first round because it gets me going from the beginning. I have to be alert, I have to be at a high level, and I think I was,” Djokovic said. “Of course you can always play better and I expect myself to be better as the tournament progresses, but it was a good matchup and I’m glad how I overcame the challenge.”

After his two-hour, 16-minute victory, Djokovic said on court that he refuses to take anything for granted, even a first-round win. As much as he has won at the highest levels of the sport, the 32-year-old appreciates the stage he gets to compete on.

“I think I always try to remind myself to be humble, to be grateful for the life that I have, the possibility to play tennis, the sport that I love. Of course it’s going to sound like a cliché when after playing so many [years on] Tour people think, ‘Well, it’s normal, he’s there, he plays at a high level. Yet again it’s another match won at centre court,’” Djokovic said. “But I try to remind myself a lot and be present and really consider the fact that not too many players experience what I experience in my career... one of my wishes is to try to enjoy [it] as much as I can. It’s easier said than done because there’s a lot of pressure, there’s a lot of expectations and of course I want to win every single match that I’m on the court playing against anybody. But I’m not the only one, I know that.

“The formula of happiness and success is finding the optimal balance between bringing the right intensity and concentration, but at the same time enjoying the moment because in the end of the day, that’s all we’ve got, that moment.”

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Djokovic is now 7-0 in singles this season, after winning all six of his singles matches at the inaugural ATP Cup, where he led Serbia to the title. The World No. 2 poured everything he had into the 24-country event, but he has had no issue with that in Melbourne.

“Not at all. I don’t feel it to be honest. I was exhausted right after, but I had seven days to recover and I kept my training sessions nice and short and intense, did what I needed to do to maintain the level and I’m pleased,” Djokovic said. “I’m pleased with the way I played, I’m pleased with the way I feel. The great thing about Grand Slams is that you always have a day off in between matches, and it’s not the first time I’m in this situation, so I’m looking forward to the next challenge.”

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