Djokovic cedes Australian Open set in 1st Rd; 1st since 2006

(AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

By HOWARD FENDRICH

AP Tennis Writer

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Novak Djokovic did something he hadn't in 14 years: He dropped a set in a first-round match at the Australian Open.

That didn't bother him, though. He actually looked upon the challenge he faced Monday night under the closed roof at Rod Laver Arena as a good thing.

"I actually like tough first rounds - in Grand Slams, particularly," the defending champion at Melbourne Park said after getting past 37th-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff 7-6 (5), 6-2, 2-6, 6-1. "Because it gets me going. From the beginning, I have to be alert. I have to be on a high level. And I think I was."

Djokovic last ceded a set in an Australian Open opener all the way back in 2006, during a loss to Paul Goldstein. Since then, the 16-time Grand Slam champ had produced 13 consecutive straight-set wins in the hard-court tournament's first round; add in the initial pair of sets against Struff, and the streak was at 41.

But then came a bit of a blip.

Struff managed to break Djokovic three times in that third set alone.

"He turned it around. He was not missing much," the second-seeded Djokovic said. "Credit to him for fighting. He's a very powerful player."

Also worth mentioning: Djokovic helped his opponent by faltering with two double-faults on the last two points of the set.

Soon, though, he regrouped, taking eight of nine points to begin the fourth and was on his way to the 900th match win of his career. The last set took all of 22 minutes.

The first set offered its own hiccups for Djokovic. He was a point away from taking it while serving for the set at 5-3 before finding himself locked in a tiebreaker against the big-hitting Struff, who has lost in the first round in 16 of his 26 career major appearances.

Djokovic began to show signs of frustration, rolling his eyes and spreading his arms wide, as if to say, "What is going on here?!" after one miss, hanging his head and slumping his shoulders after another. Eventually, he came through there.

All in all, even with some less-than-perfect patches, Djokovic considered the evening a satisfactory way to launch his bid for a record eighth title in Melbourne.

"I ended this match in a good fashion, in the right way," Djokovic said, "and this is very positive."

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Updated January 20, 2020

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