MELBOURNE, February 10
Novak Djokovic’s aura of invincibility at Rod Laver Arena wavered under the pressure of Frances Tiafoe but the Serbian rose to the challenge to claim a tough 6-3 6-7(3) 7-6(2) 6-3 win and reach the third round of the Australian Open.
The double-defending champion has rarely been tested so early at his favourite Grand Slam but he had his hands full against American Tiafoe, whose sparkling tennis revived memories of his exhilarating run to the 2019 quarterfinals.
“Very tough match,” said a relieved Djokovic on court, his voice faint and hoarse from the battle. “Also difficult conditions. While we had sun on the court it was very, very warm. I want to give a hand to Frances again for a great fight. It was a fantastic match. If I have to choose obviously I would like to have these kinds of matches in the opening week.”
Tiafoe went toe-to-toe with the top seed on a hot and humid afternoon but it all fell apart at 3-3 in the final set when the American grew frustrated by the service clock. He was docked a serve and then broken after a foul-mouthed tirade at the chair umpire.
He continued grumbling at the change of ends, complaining there was no time to wipe down with a towel and fire down a serve. Due to social distancing restrictions, players have to pick up their towels rather than have them handed to them by a ballkid.
Tiafoe earned a code violation for an audible obscenity before bowing out with a double-fault on match point.
Djokovic is unbeaten on the Melbourne Park centre court since an injury-hampered fourth round defeat to South Korea’s Chung Hyeon in the 2018 tournament. “When you win a lot on a certain court you feel more comfortable and confident,” said the Serb, who is bidding for a record-extending ninth title at Melbourne Park and 18th Grand Slam crown in total. “It feels right, it feels like my living room here. It’s only I’m not sitting on a couch.”
Serena trying not to overthink things
Serena Williams said she played better when she was not thinking quite as much after reaching the third round of the Australian Open for the 19th time with a 6-3 6-0 victory over Nina Stojanovic.
The American, again sporting her distinctive one-legged leotard, needed to find her best game at times in the first set against a spirited Serbian 15 years her junior who was playing in her fourth Grand Slam.
Williams ramped up her serve to see off the danger before putting the pressure back on her opponent with some booming service returns, running out a comfortable winner on a sun-drenched Rod Laver Arena.
“I wasn’t thinking so much in the second set,” the 39-year-old said. “I think sometimes … Even with my serve, I overthink it. When I don’t think about it and I’m just like, whatever, it goes in. But that’s clearly not the way to do it.” — Reuters
BOPANNA GOES DOWN
India endured a second successive disappointing result, with Rohan Bopanna and Ben McLachlan bowing out after a close opening-round defeat to Ji Sung Nam and Min-Kyu Song in the men’s doubles event. Bopanna and his Japanese partner lost 4-6 6-7(0) to the South Korean wild card pair in one hour and 17 minutes.
No more LINE JUDGES?
The Australian Open looks to have seen the last of the crouching officials scrutinising the lines of the tennis court after they were replaced by technology for this year’s tournament — a move that has been largely welcomed by players. This is the first Major to replace line judges with electronic line calling, a change brought about through necessity as part of a Covid-19 health measure to reduce the number of people required on-site. It may have deprived tennis fans of courtside drama, but the players are not complaining. “It saves me the trouble of attempting to challenge or thinking about did they call it correctly or not,” said US Open champion Naomi Osaka. “If they do want to continue this way, I actually have no complaints about it because I think that there’s a lot of arguments that aren’t going to happen because of this technology.” Line calls are being delivered real time through remote tracking cameras, meaning there have been no angry outbursts from players over close calls. Tournament director Craig Tiley was certain that, while the line judge would survive at lower levels, the days when future elite umpires honed their skills by calling the lines at Grand Slams were numbered.