Ver­dasco bless­ing for No­vak

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

NO­VAK DJOKOVIC may have cursed the draw for throw­ing up Fer­nando Ver­dasco as the first op­po­nent in his Aus­tralian Open de­fence yes­ter­day but the tough match-up against the Span­ish gi­ant-killer ul­ti­mately proved a bless­ing in dis­guise.

The Serb launched his bid for a record sev­enth ti­tle at Melbourne Park with an im­pres­sive 6-1 7-6(4) 6-2 win over the man who knocked Rafa Nadal out in the first round of last year’s tour­na­ment.

Djokovic was forced to save five match points to beat Ver­dasco at the re­cent Qatar Open and was bro­ken twice dur­ing a thrilling sec­ond set un­der the lights of Rod Laver Arena. But the sec­ond seed de­fended bril­liantly to defuse the vet­eran left­hander’s power game and closed out the two-hour 20-minute clash.

“I knew that win­ning the sec­ond set would be cru­cial be­cause I def­i­nitely didn’t want to give him wings,” Djokovic told re­porters after set­ting up a sec­ond round clash against Uzbek De­nis Is­tomin. “I didn’t want to have him start swing­ing at the ball, as he knows. I don’t know how he felt about the draw. But I per­son­ally think that I could have drawn... an eas­ier player. But noth­ing is easy.

“From one perspective it was good that I got to have the very tough first-round match, be­cause it made me pre­pare bet­ter and kind of ap­proach this match and the tour­na­ment with the right in­ten­sity right from the blocks, right from the first point.”

Djokovic has owned Melbourne Park for al­most a decade and his con­tin­ued reign seemed as­sured as he roared to a 5-0 lead in the first set.

Ver­dasco felled Nadal in five sets last year by swing­ing at ev­ery ball and his ag­gres­sion was re­warded when he broke Djokovic twice in the sec­ond.

But he was fu­ri­ous with him­self for let­ting the chances slip, curs­ing and bounc­ing his racket off the court in dis­gust.

He dou­ble-faulted at 4-4 to give Djokovic two break points but saved them both be­fore hold­ing serve, leav­ing the Serb yelling out his own frus­tra­tions.

It took a mo­ment of Ver­dasco mad­ness to open the door, the Spa­niard waft­ing a sliced back­hand well be­yond the base­line to con­cede two set points.

Djokovic wrapped up the tiebreak with a monster serve and sprinted away in the third set.

Beaten em­phat­i­cally in a string of base­line skir­mishes, Ver­dasco fell be­hind 4-1 and he threw his racket at his chair. It felt more like a towel be­ing tossed into a ring as there was no stop­ping Djokovic in full flight. –Reuters

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