Novak says no to Ito

  • Matt Trollope

After a little blip in round one, Novak Djokovic was back to business on Wednesday at Melbourne Park, booking his place in the third round of Australian Open 2020 in just 95 minutes.

His victim at Rod Laver Arena was Japanese wildcard Tatsuma Ito, with the clinical 6-1 6-4 6-2 win setting up a bout in the last 32 with another Japanese player in Yoshihito Nishioka.

“I’m playing all the Japanese players in the field,” Djokovic laughed on court.

“He (Nishioka) is very quick, probably one of the quickest on tour. I know what his strengths and weaknesses are and hopefully I’m able to execute the game plan.”

During his subsequent press conference, he added: “I came into the match and played extremely well at the beginning. Got 5-0 lead up after 15 minutes. I'm just overall pleased with the performance.

“My serve was working extremely well in first round and second round. That's something I worked on in the off-season. That's one of the priorities I guess of the training sessions, trying to get that I think advantage of winning a lot of easy points on the first serve.

“It has been paying off so far I think in ATP Cup and here, two matches.”

MORE: All the results from Day 3 in Melbourne

Djokovic, the defending champion, won his 901st tour-level win to reach the Australian Open third round for the 13th time in the past 14 years.

His 900th victory came two days ago, against Jan-Lennard Struff.

That match was a four-set struggle, marking the first time Djokovic has dropped a set in the first round at Melbourne Park since 2006.

t_NDjokovic_22012020_03
The second seed maintained his perfect start to 2020

Many pointed to the fact the he was possibly drained from playing eight emotionally-charged matches – six in singles, two in doubles – to help guide Serbia to victory at the inaugural ATP Cup.

Yet while he may have looked sluggish and erratic against Struff under lights on Monday evening, he was sharp from the beginning against Ito, and remains undefeated in eight singles matches so far in 2020.

The world No.2 raced to a 5-0 lead against the 146th-ranked Ito, who took his place in the main draw after winning November’s Asia-Pacific Wildcard Play-off in Zhuhai.

Yet while he looked impressive in winning four matches in China, and in his straight-sets win over lucky loser Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India in the first round here, facing Djokovic proved a massive step up in level – and an insurmountable hurdle.

‘The serve from my side helped me a lot to get out of trouble’
Novak Djokovic

After losing the first set in just 22 minutes, Ito showed in the second set he could give the ball a fair thump, and went game-for-game with the superstar Serb.

Djokovic saw a break point come and go in the seventh game when he botched a forehand. But two games later, he earned another break point, and this time his forehand rose to the occasion. He fired one aggressively cross-court to draw an error, and roared when he secured a chance to serve for a two-sets-to-love lead.

This was the turning point; Djokovic won seven of the final nine games.

He loosened up again, bringing up set point after scampering for short ball, skidding into the shot and angling it deftly for a winner. He converted it with an ace.

Meanwhile, Ito’s resistance waned. He dropped serve in the third game, watched helplessly as Djokovic consolidated the break to love in just 48 seconds, and dropped serve again to trail 4-1.

Three games later, Djokovic had improved his Australian Open win-loss record to a sparkling 70-8 and kept his campaign for a record-extending eighth title firmly on track.

t_NDjokovic_22012020_04
The Serb faces Yoshihito Nishioka in round three

“It's only second round. I do have to keep going,” Djokovic said.

“I feel comfortable and confident playing in Australia. History of my results here have been very positive.”