Djokovic Still Perfect, Opens Australian Open Campaign
Powerful Tsonga next for Serbian star
Six-time former champion Novak Djokovic extended his perfect record to 18-0 against qualifiers at major championships on Tuesday night as he began his Australian Open campaign with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over American Mitchell Kruger for a place in the second round.
"It feels great to be healthy and back on this court again. Twelve months ago it was quite a different sensation on the court with the elbow injury. Twelve months forward, obviously things are quite different," Djokovic said. "I had a tremendous success in the past six months. It got me to a great position. Hopefully I can follow up on this victory tonight with [another] good performance."
World No. 1 Djokovic, who is hoping to capture his 15th Grand Slam championship crown and move ahead of Pete Sampras (14) in the all-time major singles title list, will now challenge France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 2008 finalist, who is returning from left knee surgery last year. Djokovic leads Tsonga 16-6 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.
Earlier in the day, Tsonga lost just three of his first-service points (50/53) and struck 23 aces in a 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(5) victory over Martin Klizan of Slovakia in two hours and 26 minutes. The Djokovic-Tsonga clash will be a re-match of the 2008 Australian Open final, in which Djokovic captured his maiden major trophy.
"He's another great player, champion, someone that has been very successful in the past, established Top 10 player, played Grand Slam final," Djokovic said. "[He's] just very powerful, serve, forehand, big weapons. I know what to expect. I've played him many times. I've lost to him, as well... I'm going to approach it as any other match, to be honest. Really optimistic, but also respectful, trying to do whatever I can to win it. "
Having lost his first service game in the third game, Djokovic immediately bounced back to dominate baseline rallies and push around Krueger, who was playing just his second major championship match (2018 US Open). Djokovic won five straight games from 3-3 in the first set to 2-0 in the second set, and went on to break for a 4-1 advantage.
Qualifier Krueger, 25, saved break points in his first two service games — including five in the third game — to keep his opponent at bay in the third set. From 1-2 down, Djokovic got fired up, varying his groundstroke speed and placement, often striking to the two-handed backhand of Krueger, to win five straight games. Krueger struck a forehand return into the net to end the encounter, which lasted two hours and three minutes.
The 31-year-old Djokovic is bidding to win a third consecutive Grand Slam title and become the first man in history to record three streaks of three or more consecutive major titles (three straight titles in 2011-12 and four straight in 2015-16.)
In the final match of the day, completed at 2:08 a.m. local time, seventh seed Dominic Thiem broke clear of France’s Benoit Paire in the eighth game of the deciding set and after four match point chances stood triumphant after three hours and 42 minutes. Two years on from their first Australian Open meeting, Thiem overcame Paire — who struck 72 winners — 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 1-6, 6-3 to set up a second-round meeting against #NextGenATP Australian Alexei Popyrin, who had edged past Mischa Zverev of Germany 7-5, 7-6(7), 6-4 earlier in the day. Paire saved three match points with forehands, but lost because of a backhand error.