Australian Open: Djokovic tames Croatian teenager Prizmic in first round | Tennis News - Hindustan Times
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Australian Open: Djokovic tames Croatian teenager Prizmic in first round

Jan 14, 2024 10:05 PM IST

The 18-year-old managed to take a set off the Serb world No.1 before the 24-time Grand Slam champion won his 29th successive match at Melbourne Park

It was at the 2005 Australian Open where Novak Djokovic made his Grand Slam debut. Up against Russia's eventual champion Marat Safin, he managed to win a mere three games through the contest. That match holds significance as seven months later, Dino Prizmic was born in Split, Croatia.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic hits a return against Croatia's Dino Prizmic during their men's singles match on day one of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne(AFP)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic hits a return against Croatia's Dino Prizmic during their men's singles match on day one of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne(AFP)

And 18 years later, at the Rod Laver Arena on Sunday, it was Prizmic making his Grand Slam debut and on the other side of the net was Djokovic – now the holder of a record 24 men’s singles Major titles.

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In a generational clash, Prizmic gave a solid account of himself. The 2023 French Open junior champion had worked his way through the qualifiers to earn his first main draw appearance at a Slam. Facing the world No.1 and 10-time champion at Melbourne Park, he ensured his nerves were settled through the first set before offering the Serb a stern test. Djokovic ended up winning 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 but at four hours and a minute, it was his longest first-round match at a Major.

“Jeez, when you think about it, I’m double his age. Reality hits hard tonight,” joked Djokovic on court after his win.

While it was undoubtedly a promising debut for Prizmic, the match also served another reminder of Djokovic’s unparalleled ability to problem solve on court and get the job done. It was his 29th consecutive singles victory at the Australian Open, and his 90th overall, at the tournament (90-8).

The Serb was coming in on the back of a shock straight sets defeat to Alex de Minaur at the United Cup last week. He had suffered wrist pain in that match, raising concerns about his level heading into the first Grand Slam of the year. But the 36-year-old rose to the physical and mental battle, as he has done on countless occasions during his illustrious career, to book his spot in the second round.

After breezing through the first set, in which Prizmic was forced to call for the trainer and get his left thigh strapped, Djokovic was pushed hard by the teenager and dropped the second set after a tie-breaker.

Prizmic upped his first-serve percentage and cut down on the unforced errors to get a break and lead 3-2 in the third set as well. But the defending champion regained his composure from there to claim the next eight games. It was vintage Djokovic as he neutralised Prizmic’s speed, power and momentum with his impregnable defence and pinpoint offence.

Up 4-0 in the fourth set, it seemed Djokovic would storm past the finish line. But his opponent still had some fight left in him and pulled a break back to get to 3-4. The top seed managed to close out the contest eventually, and the two players warmly embraced at the net. They ended up shaking hands twice as they walked towards the chair umpire with Djokovic having plenty of encouraging words for the youngster.

“He (Prizmic) deserves every applause and credit he got tonight,” said Djokovic after the match.

“He’s an amazing player, so mature for his age. He handled himself on the court incredibly well. This is his moment and it could have easily been his match as well. He was a break up in the third, he fought even though he was 0-4 and a break point down (in the fourth). He showed great mentality and resilience and made me really run for my money tonight. An amazing performance for someone who is 18 years old, who doesn’t have the experience of playing on a big stage. We’re going to see a lot of him in the future.”

Heading into the tournament, Djokovic said he hoped to start his season the way he had on 10 previous occasions – by winning the Australian Open. It’s the Grand Slam where he’s had most success and a tournament where he hasn’t lost a match since 2018. With the Paris Olympics coming up as well, it’s a particularly crucial year for him as he chases a Golden Slam again.

He probably didn't bargain for such a tough fight from a player with just nine tour level matches under his belt, but Djokovic did enough to show that his game and mentality remain elite.

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