Novak Djokovic commenced his bid to capture a record-extending ninth Australian Open title at Melbourne Park with a 6-3 6-1 6-2 victory over Jeremy Chardy on the opening day of action. Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Milos Raonic also progressed safely into the second round.
Djokovic headlined the evening session and went into the contest with a 75-8 record at the competition and a 13-0 head-to-head record against the world No 61 Chardy.
Having never lost a set during their 13 contests, Djokovic took the match by the scruff of the neck early and lived up to the billing handed to him by the former player, turned coach Darren Cahill.
“If Novak is playing his best tennis, he’s the one to beat here,” Cahill had told Sky Sports ahead of Djokovic’s first match.
“These courts are perfect for him; fast through the court and his defensive game is better than anyone’s on tour. If he is serving well and transitioning well, which he has been, Novak is the clear favourite.”
Throughout the contest between Djokovic and Chardy, the world No 1 was accurate and dominant on serve. He put 75 per cent of his first serves in, banged down nine aces and won 86 per cent of points on his first serve during the match.
Djokovic also made good use of his net game throughout and looked right at home inside the Rod Laver Arena.
After a 37-minute first set, Djokovic kept his foot on the accelerator and added the second just 22 minutes later.
Chardy, to his great credit, continued to run every ball down but it was a procession from the world No 1 and the 91-minute victory reminded his fellow competitors just how much Djokovic loves playing this Grand Slam.
“Good evening everyone,” Djokovic said on court after. “It’s great to see you back in a stadium.
“It makes my heart full to see a crowd in a stadium again. It’s one of those things, that we hope that these kind of circumstances in the world are only temporary and I’m really glad to see a lot of people.
This is the most amount of people I’ve seen on a tennis court in 12 months. I really, really appreciate your support in coming out tonight because sometimes we take these things for granted. I’m very, very grateful to see crowds back again so thank you.
“It’s an on-going love affair between me and this court, the Rod Laver Arena, hopefully I can have many [more] great matches with these kinds of performances.”
Djokovic’s next opponent will be Frances Tiafoe, who also secured a straight-sets victory in the first round against Stefano Travaglia.
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Thiem also moved into the second round after a 7-6 (7-2) 6-2 6-3 result against Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan.
The US Open champion returned to Rod Laver Arena and pushed aside any memories of his last contest there, which was a five-set defeat to Djokovic in last year’s final.
Thiem’s two-hour and 42-minute contest saw the world No 3 save a set point against him when Kukushkin led 6-5 in the opening set. He did so by keeping his composure and then used that belief to lift his game out of Kukushkin’s reach.
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“He played well,” Thiem said on the ATP’s website. “The first set was very, very close. One set point [for Kukushkin]… and that was the key point.
“I needed some time to get used to the fast and quick conditions, but in general it was a great first round of a Grand Slam. It’s super nice that there is a crowd, and it was a nice atmosphere today. I definitely felt nerves because it was a long time until the Slam.”
Thiem will now face either Dominik Koepfer or Hugo Dellien, a lucky loser, in the next round.
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Days after pushing top-ranked Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev all the way in tough tussles at the ATP Cup, Alexander Zverev found himself in a spot of bother during his opening match against the world No 73 Marcos Giron.
The sixth seed lost the first set in a tie-break, after saving four set points. He then clearly needed to let off steam in the second set, as he smashed and broke his racket on court.
After releasing his emotions, Zverev regained his composure to charge on and beat the 27-year-old 6-7 (10-8) 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 6-2.
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“He played incredible. He knew on a big stage, against a top-10 player, he has to come out firing,” Zverev said after the two-hour and 42-minute contest.
“He had me in trouble. Two days ago I was spending three hours on court against Medvedev and Novak – my body was a bit fatigued. But this is a Slam, you don’t get easy matches.”
Next up, he’ll face either the American qualifier Maxime Cressy or a lucky loser Taro Daniel of Japan.
Meanwhile, an emotional Gael Monfils exited the competition in anguish after a shock 3-6 6-4 7-5 3-6 6-3 loss to Emil Ruusuvuori and said that he felt trapped in a “nightmare” as he battles through a slump in form.
Monfils, who last tasted victory in Dubai nearly a year ago, fell to his seventh successive loss and only his second first-round defeat at Melbourne Park.
“I lost, I have zero confidence, I played badly,” Monfils said after, his voice breaking as he held back tears. “I cannot serve, I make mistakes … I do not feel right, and it shows.
I know that I have lost a lot and it hurts me. I would like to wake up and tell myself that this nightmare is over, but I don’t know when it will stop. I have no confidence, I have no confidence.
Monfils, a former quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park, converted only six out of 23 break points against 21-year-old Ruusuvuori, the world No 86 who was in his first main draw at the tournament.
Elsewhere, Stan Wawrinka made light work of Pedro Sousa. Wawrinka required just 96 minutes to secure a 6-3 6-2 6-4 result and won 88 per cent of points on his first serve.
The 14th seed Milos Raonic also raced through a first-round match, as he secured a 6-3 6-3 6-2 result against Federico Coria in a similar time.
As soon as Raonic was off court, he immediately turned his attention to Super Bowl LV and the work of Tom Brady for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“It was on in the locker room so I didn’t have to make too much of an effort to look out for it,” Raonic said.
“I think I look up to a lot of athletes that have done incredible things. I think Tom [Brady] for a lot of people, has set a pretty special example, just because he wasn’t the kid prodigy that sort of went on to do the great things he has done.
“I think a lot of people can reference that. I wasn’t necessarily by any means, by [any[ stretch of the imagination, one of the best juniors, but I kept plugging away just to try to be better and better each day.
“It came together for me. I think a lot of people appreciate that aspect about it. Then there’s the whole age thing that a lot of people look at, as well. But there’s a lot there.”
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