MELBOURNE, Australia, Jan 22 – Defending champion Novak Djokovic credited a newly refined serve for his eight-game unbeaten streak this season after he romped past Japanese wildcard Tatsuma Ito to reach the Australian Open third round.
The Serbian star gave up just seven games against the world number 146 in the 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 workout on Rod Laver Arena which lasted just 95 minutes.
Djokovic has been taking tips from serving maestro Goran Ivanisevic and fired down 16 aces against Ito to extend his ominous run after winning six matches with Serbia at the ATP Cup.
“My serve was working extremely well in first round and second round. That’s something I worked on in the off-season,” said Djokovic, who is gunning for a 17th Grand Slam title and his eighth in Melbourne.
“That’s one of the priorities I guess of the training sessions, trying to get that I think advantage of winning a lot of easy points on the first serve.
“It has been paying off so far I think in ATP Cup and here, two matches.”
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 losses was against another wildcard — Denis Istomin — in the second round three years ago.
Perhaps 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.
– ‘Fighting till the end’ –
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.
The world number two praised Ito “for fighting till the end”, with both players struggling to master the windy conditions at Melbourne Park.
“I don’t think players enjoy these kind of conditions, to be honest. But it is what it is,” Djokovic said.
“You have to accept them and embrace the fact that, I guess, you’re going to be challenged on different levels, not just by your opponent, but also the conditions.”
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).