Defending champion Novak Djokovic staved off a middle-set challenge from the experienced Fernando Verdasco to enter the second round with a 6-1, 7-6(4), 6-2 victory at the 2017 Australian Open in Melbourne on Tuesday. Seeded second this time behind Andy Murray, the Serb is seeking his seventh title at the year's first Major.
With this win, the 29-year-old is now on a six-match winning streak after opening the new season with a title in Doha.
First set rout by Djokovic
Djokovic and Verdasco met as recently as less than two weeks ago in the semi-finals of the Qatar Open where the Serb had a great escape after saving five match points. Anybody who wanted Verdasco to emulate his heroics in the first round of the 2017 Australian Open, were in for a disappointment initially. The six-time champion, fresh from his Doha title, refused to do anything wrong.
Verdasco did not manage a single break point whereas the Serb played effortlessly to break his lower-ranked opponent twice. It was only after trailing 0-5 that the Spanish ace finally got on the board.
Verdasco bounces back only to squander his chances
The second set was a story of breaks as Verdasco rebounded in a stunning fashion after that first set blowout but could not hold on to his advantage with the second seed storming back to level the issue. The Spaniard had been involved in a marathon semi-final at this Slam back in 2009 when he ended up on the losing side to his compatriot Rafael Nadal. He certainly knows how to bring out his best in Australia.
That is exactly what the 33-year-old did as he lifted his game by several notches and forced errors off Djokovic's racquet to lead 2-0. His joy was, however, short-lived as erratic play allowed the second seed to break back.
Verdasco struck once more by reeling off winners off both the wings and built a 3-1 advantage.
In a repeat of the earlier game, the World No. 40 played another atrocious service game when it mattered the most, letting his higher-ranked rival back into the set. With neither player managing any more breakthroughs, the set continued on serve.
Verdasco even got to two points away from taking the set when he went up 5-4, 30-30 on Djokovic's serve. But a shank at the most inopportune moment cost him the big chance.
The defending champion immediately carved out a break point only to see a determined Verdasco's brilliant serves blow it away to hold for 6-5.
A tie-break ensued where Djokovic was the early aggressor. Riding on his forehand winners and an exquisite volley, the Serb quickly went up 3-0.
Just when the set looked all over for Verdasco, the southpaw came back thanks to some blazing backhands that disrupted Djokovic's rhythm. The Spaniard took four points on the trot but that was all he succeeded in doing to stall the Djokovic momentum as the six-time champion capitalised on his flurry of errors to grab the second set, 7-6(4).
Verdasco looked pretty subdued following that setback and the World No. 2 sensed the opportunity to make in-roads into the left-hander's game very early in the third set. Verdasco continued to blow hot and cold, squandering all the mini-chances he got after that.
With Djokovic serving at 2-0, the Spaniard got to a break point in vain. The 3-0 lead very much sealed the deal for the second seed.
Each of the subsequent service games was a struggle for the former Australian Open semi-finalist as Djokovic dropped just two more games to complete the win.