July 17th, 2024

Defending champion Djokovic fends off first-timer Prizmic in 4 hours to advance in Australia

By John Pye, The Associated Press on January 14, 2024.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Until he took on defending champion Novak Djokovic at Rod Laver Arena on opening Sunday in Australia, Dino Prizmic had never played a Grand Slam match.

The 18-year-old Croatian qualifier, who was born seven months after Djokovic made his Grand Slam debut in 2005, made it last as long as he could, unsettling the 24-time major winner at times before Djokovic finished off the match 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4.

Djokovic made his Grand Slam debut at Melbourne Park in 2005 and has developed a record at the Australian Open that no man can match, with 10 titles here among his unprecedented career haul.

The first set played out just about as expected. From there, it became quite a ride.

Prizmic took the second set off Djokovic and went up a break in the third, stunning a capacity crowd, before the world’s No. 1-ranked player broke back and took the set.

Prizmic didn’t give up when he trailed 4-0 in the fourth, either, saving a breakpoint before getting a service break back. He saved three match points at 5-3 down and made Djokovic serve it out. He then saved a further two match points before it ended in 4 hours and 1 minute.

“He deserved every applause, every credit he got tonight,” Djokovic said. “Amazing performance for someone that is 18 years old and never had the experience of playing on a big stage. Kudos to him.”

The first of three Sundays – an extra day was introduced at Melbourne Park to try to reduce the number of post-midnight finishes – didn’t have quite the desired outcome.

Fifth-seeded Andrey Rublev needed four hours to beat Thiago Seyboth Wild 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (6). He later admitted fears his first-round match against Seyboth Wild would end like his friend Daniil Medvedev’s did at last year’s French Open: in an upset.

No. 12 Taylor Fritz needed a medical timeout to get his left ankle taped in the second set before he recovered to beat Facundo Diaz Acosta 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 in a seesawing four-hour match.

Djokovic’s match finished after 11 p.m., making for a late start for defending women’s champion Aryna Sabalenka.

The first match on Rod Laver was over quickly, with Italy’s Davis Cup star Jannik Sinner advancing after a 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 first-round win over No. 59-ranked Botic van de Zandschulp in 2 1/2 hours. It was his first match since a memorable November when he twice beat Djokovic and won the Davis Cup.

“Means a lot to me to start off with a win,” fourth-seeded Sinner said in a post-match TV interview as a half-dozen fans dressed in carrot costumes cheered from the stands. “Physically, I feel good. I’m here in good shape. I think I can be happy for today.”

Women’s eighth seed Maria Sakkari admitted her relief after she beat Nao Hibino of Japan 6-4, 6-1, her first Grand Slam win since last year’s Australian Open.

“I lost three first rounds in my last three Grand Slams,” she said. “For me, it was a very difficult match today emotionally. I’m happy I managed to do the job right and play a good second set.”

Also advancing were 2021 U.S. Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, who beat 17-year-old Sara Bejlek 7-6 (5), 6-2 and No. 9 Barbora Krejcikova, who rallied from a set and a break down to beat Mai Hontama 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Two 16-year-old players advanced to the second round: Brenda Fruhvirtova recorded her first Grand Slam win, overcoming Anna Bogdan 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 and Alina Korneeva – the Australian Open junior champion last year – who rallied to beat Sara Sorribes Tormo 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Another Russian qualifier, Maria Timofeeva had a 6-2, 6-4 win over Alize Cornet, who was appearing in a women’s record 68th consecutive Grand Slam event.

Timofeeva will next face 2018 champion Caroline Wozniacki, who in her first Australian Open since becoming a mom advanced when 20th-seeded Magda Linette retired while trailing 6-2, 2-0.

Amanda Anisimova continued her comeback from a career break with a 6-3, 6-4 win over No. 13-seeded Liudmila Samsonova.

Rublev did it tough, wasting four match points in the 12th game of the fifth set. He fell behind 5-2 in the match tiebreaker before regaining his composure, winning eight of the next nine points to clinch it.

He slumped to the ground, then got up quickly, embraced Seyboth Wild, who was making his debut in the Australian Open main draw, and roared triumphantly.

Seyboth Wild upset major winner Medvedev in the first round at Roland Garros last year and Rublev admitted he felt the momentum going the same way before he decided to relax and go for broke.

“For sure, I will not forget this one,” said Rublev, who opened the year with a title in Hong Kong. “Thiago is a super dangerous player. Super talented. He’s hitting so hard, so clean.”

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

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