World No. 2 Novak Djokovic overcame a second-set hiccup to beat Fernando Verdasco 6-1, 7-6(4) 6-2 in an absorbing first-round clash Australian Open at the Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday.
With the tie scheduled for late evening, Melbourne time, Djokovic got off to a blistering start against the unranked Spaniard, wrapping up the first set in just 31 minutes.
Breaking Verdasco in the very first game of the match, the defending champion won the five games with consummate ease and a hapless Verdasco barely managed to hold his serve only once as Djokovic took a one set to love lead in the tie.
The second set made for compelling stuff, as Verdasco came roaring back, breaking the Serbian not once, but twice, taking advantage of an uncharacteristically sloppy Djokovic.
Any other player and Verdasco would have had an unassailable lead, but the sinewy Serbian is no ordinary player for he broke his 33-year-old opponent right back each time he faltered on his serve.
Verdasco’s booming forehands were causing the defending champion plenty of problems and he made the Serbian fight for every point, especially when returning
Earlier in January, Verdasco had stretched the ‘Djoker’ to the limit in an exhausting semifinal at the Qatar Open. The Serbian somehow managed to save five match-points before recovering and eventually winning the title.
While the temperature was a breezy 25 degrees, the stakes were high for Djokovic, who was playing his first Slam since his split from coach Boris Becker.
The final set didn't exactly mirror the first, but Djokovic took a 3-0 lead pretty easily, despite Verdasco battling bravely to stay in the game.
Despite his efforts, Verdasco was broken by Djokovic one last time in the eighth game as the crowd erupted in joy to see the seven-time Australian Open champion overcome a dangerous opponent without sapping too much energy.
Djokovic will next face the winner of the Denis Istomin-Ivan Dodig clash in the second-round.