Novak Djokovic reflects on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga clash in Australian Open second round
World No 1 thrilled to set up meeting with fit-again Frenchman whom he had beaten in 2008 final
Top seed Novak Djokovic looked every inch the Australian Open favourite as he kicked off his bid for a record seventh title at Melbourne Park with an emphatic 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over American qualifier Mitchell Kruger on Tuesday.
Soaking up the Rod Laver Arena limelight, the Serb moved superbly in his opener and hit 42 winners to wrap up the one-sided clash in little more than two hours.
Now free from fitness problems, the 31-year-old Serb is savouring his return to a tournament he has virtually owned for the past decade.
"It feels great to be healthy and back on this court again," the 14-time grand slam champion said. "Twelve months ago it was quite a different sensation on the court with the elbow injury. Twelve months forward, obviously things are quite different.
"Hopefully I can follow up on this victory tonight with a good performance."
Djokovic will take a trip down memory lane next when he plays old foe Tsonga in the second round.
Frenchman Tsonga was on the losing side in the 2008 Australian Open final as Djokovic won his first of 14 Grand Slams.
"It's funny, I mean, 11 years after our first grand slam final here, it feels like a lot has happened for both of us," Djokovic said.
Former world No 4 Tsonga missed seven months of 2018 after knee surgery and needed a wildcard to get into the tournament after his ranking dropped outside the top 200.
"He also struggled with injuries lately. It's good to see him playing well," Djokovic said.
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Halep's reality check
World No 1 Simona Halep conceded she was struggling for form after narrowly surviving a first-round scare at the Australian Open Tuesday, saying she had "no expectations" about how far she can go at the season-opening grand slam tournament.
The Romanian had to dig deep for a come-from-behind win against Kaia Kanepi, the unseeded Estonian who dumped her from last year's US Open first round.
Halep said she was proud of the fight she showed grinding out a 6-7, 6-4, 6-2 victory, but conceded it was not the type of performance expected of the top seed and French Open champion.
"I'm just happy that I could win," she said. "Nothing else matters because I'm not at the highest level of my tennis. I'm just trying to feel good on court and to improve day by day."
The 27-year-old showed no sign of the back injury that ended her season prematurely last year, instead she simply struggled to cope with the Estonian's powerful groundstrokes.
"At one point I didn't know what to do any more because the ball was coming so strong," she said.
"I just thought I have to be strong on the legs, to be there closer to the line. If I went back, I would not have a chance to return the balls."
Osaka beats the bugs
Japanese fourth seed Naomi Osaka overcame a nervous start and distraction from flying bugs to ease into the Australian Open second round Tuesday.
The US Open champion downed Magda Linette of Poland 6-4, 6-2 in just under an hour to set up a meeting with Tamara Zidansek of Slovakia in the next round.
"I felt really nervous walking onto the court but then when I started playing I just felt really happy and grateful that I'm able to play in front of such a great crowd," she said of her experience on Rod Laver Arena.
The 21-year-old said she enjoyed the warm Australian conditions but had to call for a ballboy's help when a bug was fluttering on court as she prepared to serve for the match.
"I'm not really that great at catching them, I'd accidentally squish it maybe, so it's probably not a good idea," she said.
Osaka quickly put aside her brush with Australian wildlife and sealed the match with an ace.
Nick Kyrgios will tumble further down the rankings after losing in the opening round to Milos Raonic.
The Australian paid for dropping outside the top 50 by drawing 16th seed Raonic and is now likely to be around 70 when the standings are updated following a 6-4, 7-6, 6-4 loss.
Kyrgios received treatment to his right knee throughout the match and made no secret of his irritation at another injury problem with some colourful language.
But afterwards he gave all the credit to Raonic, saying: "I don't think that was at all the reason I lost today. He played unbelievable. Never seen serving like that in my life.
"I actually thought I played OK. I competed well. I probably would have beaten 75 per cent of the draw. But Milos played scary."
Updated: January 15, 2019 08:47 PM