In his bid to defend the title, seven-time champion Novak Djokovic weathered a testing second set and breezy conditions of Australian Open on Wednesday (January 22) to crush Japanese wildcard Tatsuma Ito and reach the third round.
The Serbian star gave up just seven games against world number 146 in the 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 romp on Rod Laver Arena which lasted 95 minutes.
“Credit to him for fighting till the end, the second set was pretty close. They were tough conditions, pretty windy and it was hard to know where the balls were going. My serve helped a lot to get me out of trouble,” said the reigning title-holder.
His reward is a clash against another Japanese, Yoshihito Nishioka, who beat Britain’s Dan Evans in three sets.
It was Djokovic’s 70th match win at Melbourne Park to only eight defeats, but one of those defeats was against a wildcard — Denis Istomin — in the second round three years ago.
With that in mind, he came out with all guns blazing, racing through the first set in just 22 minutes.
The 32-year-old dropped a set in a tough opening clash on Monday against German Jan-Lennard Struff, and against the odds, Ito pressed hard to level the match in the second set.
The experienced Japanese, bidding to reach a Grand Slam third round for the first time, cut down on his error rate to push Djokovic around the court and get into the rallies.
But the Serb inevitably got the break he was chasing in game nine when Ito fluffed a forehand and he quickly served it out, blasting down an ace to go two sets ahead.
Djokovic, bidding for a 17th Grand Slam title, had never lost a Slam match to a player ranked as low as Ito and the Japanese couldn’t sustain his level, leaking errors as the world number two galloped to the finish line.
Djokovic is seeking to become only the third man to win eight or more titles at the same Grand Slam after Rafael Nadal (12 at Roland Garros) and Roger Federer (eight at Wimbledon).
He is now on an eight-match win streak after leading Serbia to the ATP Cup title in Sydney ahead of the first Major of the year.
As for the next-gen torchbearer, sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas got a free ride into the third round when German opponent Philipp Kohlschreiber pulled out injured.
“Unfortunately Philipp Kohlschreiber has withdrawn from his #AusOpen match vs Stefanos Tsitsipas due to a muscle strain,” organisers tweeted.
The Greek star, who dropped just five games in his opening clash against Italian Salvatore Caruso, will play either big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic or Chile’s Christian Garin.
Expectations are high for 21-year-old Tsitsipas, who stunned Roger Federer in 2019 en route to the final four at Melbourne Park, announcing himself as a force to be reckoned with.
Meanwhile, India’s Divij Sharan and his New Zealand partner Artem Sitak progressed to the second round of the Australian Open men’s doubles event after beating Pablo Carreno Busta and Joao Sousa in Melbourne.
Sharan and Sitak got the better of the Portuguese-Spanish duo 6-4 7-5 in a thrilling one hour 28-minute encounter.
The duo will next face the winner of the first-round match between 10th seeds Mate Pavio-Bruno Soares and Ben Molachlan and Luke Bambridge.
On Tuesday, India’s top-ranked tennis player Prajnesh Gunneswaran missed out on a chance to play against world no.2 Novak Djokovic after crashing out in the men’s singles opening round.
(With inputs from agencies)