Novak Djokovic dropped a set in his first-round match against Jan-Lennard Struff but looked back to something approaching his best in the fourth set to win 7-6 6-2 2-6 6-1.
Seeking an eighth Australian Open title, Djokovic said in his on-court interview with John McEnroe on Eurosport:
“First of all, it’s great to be back in this arena that has a very special place in my heart. This has been by far my most successful court in my career. I love coming back to Australia – the land of tennis. I want to thank everybody for staying almost until midnight and supporting both players.”
Djokovic eased out to a 5-3 lead to allow him to serve for the first set.
But Struff dug deep and somehow broke Djokovic at the crucial moment, turning the tide with the help of a quite astonishing winner in a point he looked almost certain to lose.
Struff took Djokovic to a tie-break but the world No. 2’s competitive instincts remained undimmed having recently led Serbia to ATP Cup glory and he closed it out 7-5.
Struff continued to dog Djokovic in the early exchanges in the second set but the Serb stepped up his game and opened up a double break with a delicious slice winner, which he clearly relished.
And smiles were plastered all over his face when he served out to claim the second set. However, the start of the third didn’t go to plan as Struff forced a break in the second game. Djokovic broke back but in a topsy-turvy encounter, Struff struck back once more to open up a 4-2 lead.
The quality in some of the rallies was exceptional with the German world No. 37 more than playing his part in an increasingly absorbing encounter on Rod Laver Arena. A big hold to make it 5-2 put him within touching distance of the third set and it was gifted to Struff when Djokovic double-faulted.
But the Serb rallied to close out the fourth set 6-1 and take his place in the next round. It was his 900th career win, and Djokovic added to McEnroe:
“I’m just starting. I’m obviously very proud of all the achievements but at the same time, I try to remind myself how grateful I have to be. I’m still playing at a very high level at the sport that I love. I was a four-year-old, grabbed a tennis racquet for the first time. Saw it on the TV. Serbia doesn’t really have a tennis tradition, at least at the time. Everything seemed quite impossible at the time but here we are, 25 years later and I can’t take things for granted. I’m just trying to enjoy every moment.”