Australian Open 2015: Novak Djokovic revelling in ‘positive, easygoing energy’
Novak Djokovic beats Andrey Kuznetsov to reach the third round of the Australian Open in Melbourne
The world No1 Novak Djokovic continued to make statesmanlike progress in the tournament that has yielded him the most success in what is already one of the most successful tennis careers this millennium.
Djokovic dropped only five games against the 23-year-old No88-ranked Andrey Kuznetsov, beating the young Russian, 6-0, 6-1, 6-4 in an hour and 24 minutes.
That might say enough about the form of the four-time former champion who has now lost only three matches in Melbourne since 2007, yet the stats do bear a mention.
Djokovic made 28 winners to 19 errors, 7/8 points at the net, dropped just five points on first serve, and broke seven times. Yes, he was broken, just the once, at the start of the third set, but he quickly regrouped to win four games in a row. And, calmness personified, he was quietly satisfied with his performance: “First two sets definitely have been great.
“Overall I executed the game plan. Everything I intended to do, almost 100 percent from every second in my game, serve, baseline play, aggressive shots and aggressive returns.
“He dropped his first-serve percentage a lot in the second set and obviously allowed me to have a lot of looks at the second serves. That, as well, gave me an opportunity to step in and just swing through the ball.”
But that quietness, almost serene, has become an integral quality in Djokovic en route to becoming currently the best player striking a tennis ball. For while he may have arrived in Australia a little under the weather—fighting off a persistent stomach virus—his form in 2014 was unmatched.
He won the most titles, seven—including Wimbledon and the World Tour finals. He won more Grand Slam matches than anyone else, and headed the Masters match-win table with Roger Federer—though he lost fewer than his chief rival in 2014 to claim four Masters titles. He also scored more wins over top-10 opponents than the rest, 19 of them, though it was in Melbourne, 12 months ago, that he lost to one of them. In the latest of a series of highly competitive Grand Slam confrontations, Djokovic would lose to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka, 7-9 in the fifth set.
So with hindsight, how did he feel coming back to Melbourne this year?
“Considering the success that I had in my career in this tournament gives me enough reason and confidence to believe I can go far. But I have to start the tournament well. 120 players want to prove that they deserve to be here and they have huge motivation to win against the top players. It’s something that is obviously keeping us all cautious, and we have to have a right and humble approach to the tournament. So I’ll take it one match at a time.”
But aside from the confidence that comes from being at the peak of his powers, there is perhaps another dimension to the Djokovic composure this year. He married, and then became a father for the first time last autumn. Fatherhood clearly suits him, though it brings its own new challenges, as he freely admitted: “Yeah, it was a different off-season from the previous ones.
“Obviously I entered a new chapter in my life, becoming a father, forming my own family with my wife. [It] obviously brought a lot of joy and fulfilment in my life. On the other hand, it was important for me to understand how I’m going to organise my life obviously.
“But I think my team made sure that I’m on my schedule, that I’m still staying disciplined and kind of committed to this sport. In terms of my approach to tennis, nothing has changed.”
Judging from his two opening wins this week, nothing has changed: He has looked entirely at home.
“Well, generally this is my most successful Grand Slam and the tournament where over the years I’ve performed my best tennis. Reason? I think there is not one reason.
“Probably the fact that I enjoy the conditions of play. Even though last two years the courts have played faster, significantly faster than they were before, still I do enjoy being here in Australia. Some nice, positive, easy-going, sport-oriented energy going around. People appreciate the sport and make you feel good. Of course, it’s the beginning of the year, the first big tournament. Everybody comes fresh and motivated. So I guess it’s a combination of things that make me feel comfortable on the court here.”
Djokovic is in a quarter packed by big-hitting men, yet it is hard to see anyone upsetting his composure much before the quarter-finals. There he is scheduled to meet Milos Raonic, who has won just a single set from the Serb in four previous meetings. An alternative, though, is the hot-and-cold Jerzy Janowicz, a former Wimbledon semi-finalist working his way back up the rankings after injury, and clearly relishing those fast conditions that Djokovic highlighted.
First up, however, is No31 seed Fernando Verdasco, followed by either No19 John Isner or Gilles Muller.
The second week of a Grand Slam is a different animal, of course, and in the distance lies the prospect of a rematch with Wawrinka. The defending champion, here on the back of winning the Chennai title, has also yet to drop a set, though he had to battle through more than two hours in his second-round match against Marius Copil, 7-6(4), 7-6(4), 6-3.
But with all four of their completed best-of-five-set matches going the distance, Djokovic vs Wawrinka is surely the semi-final that fans everywhere will want to see.