Djokovic Endures Early Scare In Melbourne

Serbian improves to 15-0 against Monfils

A shaky start from Novak Djokovic – five double faults in the first set – had to raise Gael Monfils' hopes: Is this the day?

The Frenchman had lost to Djokovic the first 14 times they had played in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, including during the 2016 US Open semi-finals. Only nine other rivalries in the Open Era had been more lopsided.

But after Monfils took advantage of Djokovic's slow beginning, the Frenchman fatigued in the Melbourne sun, and Djokovic settled his game enough to remain perfect against Monfils. The 14th-seeded Serbian advanced to the third round of the Australian Open for the 11th time 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.

Most dominant Tour-level head-to-head records (Open Era)

Player

Opponent

FedEx ATP Head2Head Series

Bjorn Borg
Roger Federer
Roger Federer
Ivan Lendl

Vitas Gerulaitis
Mikhail Youzhny
David Ferrer
Tim Mayotte

17-0
17-0
17-0
17-0

Ivan Lendl
Ivan Lendl

Scott Davis
Brad Gilbert

16-0
16-0

Bjorn Borg
Roger Federer
Rafael Nadal
Novak Djokovic

Harold Solomon
Jarkko Nieminen
Richard Gasquet
Gael Monfils

15-0
15-0
15-0
15-0

Bjorn Borg

Eddie Dibbs

14-0

Djokovic wasn't skipping around the court as temperatures rose into the high 30s Celsius, and his serve struggles persisted after the first set. The former World No. 1 continues to hone his new service motion, which features less windup in hopes of less pain for his right elbow. Djokovic finished with 11 double faults.

“The conditions were brutal, that's for sure,” said Djokovic. “We both struggled. Maybe he struggled a bit more in a period [at the] end of the second set, [the] entire third set… “When you're facing such conditions, obviously it affects you mentally, as well. It was a big challenge for both of us to be on the court, to be able to finish the match. I'm just glad that I managed to come out on top.

“I had a nervous start. I wasn't really comfortable at the very beginning. I can't blame conditions for my double faults. I mean, it's still a motion that I'm kind of getting used to. Being rusty at the beginning is something that you can also expect. I just have to accept it, embrace it, obviously hope for a better day tomorrow and next match.”

But Monfils was visibly more affected by the climate. The Frenchman frequently leaned on his racquet and placed his left hand on his knee as he tried to summon the energy to replicate the first set.

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It was only the fourth time that Monfils had taken the opening set against Djokovic in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, and Monfils carried more momentum into their second-round matchup.

The Frenchman had won his seventh ATP World Tour title during week one of the 2018 season, beating Russian Andrey Rublev to claim the Qatar ExxonMobil Open trophy in Doha. Djokovic, meanwhile, on Tuesday, played his first match since July because of his right elbow injury, and the Serbian had fallen in the Australian Open second round one year ago to Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan in one of the upsets of the 2017 season.

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But Djokovic broke Monfils seven times, and the streak lives, as does Djokovic's chances of a record-setting seventh Australian Open title, which would put him atop the title leaderboard in Melbourne. Roy Emerson also won six titles (1961 and 1963-1967.)

The Serbian will next meet the 21st seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain, who saved all three break points faced to beat Tim Smyczek of the U.S. 6-4, 6-2, 7-6(2). Djokovic has also never lost to Ramos-Vinolas, leading their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 4-0. In fact, he's never dropped a set against the left-hander, having won all 10 of their sets.

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