Confronting the ghosts of his past from the Australian Open exit three years ago, Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, defeated Japanese ace Tatsuma Ito on Wednesday to breeze into the third round of Australian Open. The former world No 1 beat the wildcard Ito 6-1 6-4 6-2.
During the Serbian's last tryst with a wildcard in the Australian Open in 2017, he was shockingly despatched by Uzbek wildcard Denis Istomin at Melbourne Park. However, the world No 2 made easy work of the Japanese wildcard who made the wildcard cut after winning the Asia-Pacific wildcard playoff.
Finding his rhythm after a tough first round
Having struggled through a four-set grind against unseeded German Jan-Lennard Struff in his opener, Djokovic was back to his imperious best as he fired down 16 aces and racked up 31 winners in a 95-minute romp at a gusty Rod Laver Arena.
"I came into the match and played extremely well at the beginning," Djokovic told reporters, having stormed to a 5-0 first set lead in 15 minutes adding that "I'm just overall pleased with the performance. It's only the second round. I do have to keep going. I feel comfortable and confident about playing in Australia. History of my results here have been very positive."
An intense second set
Ito, a 31-year-old journeyman ranked 146th in the world, gave Djokovic a decent work-out in the second set but the Serb broke the match open with an inspired passage of play. He scrambled to retrieve a drop-shot and flicked a cross-court forehand winner at full-stretch to bring up set point then converted it with an ace.
Ito promptly crumbled to trail 4-1 in the third and Djokovic, chasing a record-extending eighth title at Melbourne Park, marched to victory with a barrage of thumping serves. He will meet another Japanese player in Yoshihito Nishioka, who knocked out British 30th seed Dan Evans in straight sets, for a place in the fourth round.
"I'm playing all the Japanese players in the field," Djokovic laughed on court. "He (Nishioka) is very quick, probably one of the quickest on tour." Djokovic thrashed Nishioka 6-1 6-2 in the Davis Cup Finals in Spain in November. "I know what his strengths and weaknesses are and hopefully I'm able to execute the game plan," added the Serb.
(With inputs from agencies)