MELBOURNE, Australia, Jan 22 – Defending champion Novak Djokovic meets Japanese wildcard Tatsuma Ito at the Australian Open on Wednesday as he seeks to ramp up his spectacular start to the season.
The second seed, chasing a record-extending eighth Australian Open title, is unbeaten so far this year after leading Serbia to victory at the inaugural ATP Cup.
Djokovic swept aside Jan-Lennard Struff in the first round in Melbourne and is unlikely to fear his first career meeting with Ito, the world number 146.
The 16-time Grand Slam winner dropped the third set against Struff but he finished strongly and wielded a rapier serve, hitting 14 aces with a 65 percent first-serve percentage.
“I ended this match in a good fashion, in the right way and this is very positive,” Djokovic said, warning that it was just the start he wanted.
“Historically I had a lot of success in the Grand Slams where I had a tough opponent in the first round because it gets me going from the beginning,” said the Serb.
“I have to be alert, I have to be on a high level and I think I was. Of course, you can always play better and I expect myself to be better as the tournament progresses.”
Serena Williams will also look to build on a strong start when she plays Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek, with Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles in her sights.
Like Djokovic, the 38-year-old American is unbeaten this year after breaking a three-year trophy drought in Auckland. She dropped only three games against Anastasia Potapova in the opening round in Melbourne.
Breakout star Coco Gauff, fresh from beating Williams’s sister Venus in round one, plays Sorana Cirstea, and defending champion Naomi Osaka is up against China’s Zheng Saisai.
Roger Federer faces Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic and Caroline Wozniacki, playing her last tournament before retiring, comes up against highly rated Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska, 19.
The locals will be in full voice for Australia’s women’s world number one Ashleigh Barty, who will be hot favourite against Slovenia’s unseeded Polona Hercog.