Novak Djokovic has been in terrific form over the last six months winning the last two Grand Slams and he continued that on Thursday at Melbourne as he faced off against the Frenchman Jo Wilfried Tsonga in a rematch of the 2008 Australian Open final.
The World No.1 triumphed in straight sets 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 while fourth seed Alexander Zverev had to battle past another Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in five sets. Top seed Simona Halep appeared to be cruising against American Sofia Kenin but then had to dig deep and overcome a third set deficit to get through to the third round. 2017 champion Serena Williams had no trouble against Eugenie Bouchard winning 6-2, 6-2.
In the night session, Djokovic made a quick start breaking Tsonga early in the first set but surrendered the lead as Tsonga got back on serve. However the Serbian regained the lead with another break and soon took the first set. Djokovic again held the upper hand in the second set but was broken while serving for the set at 5-4. Tsonga however played a poor error filled game to drop serve again. At the second time of asking, Djokovic easily held on to take a two sets lead. Tsonga came up with some terrific shots but ultimately the top seed was too strong for the Frenchman who only recently got back on tour after a long injury break.
“It’s always tough playing Jo. He’s struggled with injuries in the last 12 months. His ranking doesn’t go him justice at the moment – he’s always been a top player in my eyes, and he’s got plenty of experience playing on the big stage, so it was a pleasure to play against him tonight.” Djokovic said about his opponent.
Zverev playing with coach Ivan Lendl in his corner appeared to be headed for an easy day when he won the first two sets against Chardy but then the Frenchman started timing his shots better and came up with some powerful shots to level the match at two sets all. But Zverev rebounded quickly to win the fifth set 6-1 to win through to the third round. Milos Raonic overcame his second tough opponent as he beat former champ Stan Wawrinka in a four tie break match filled with big serves and powerful shots. Seventh seed Dominic Thiem retired with fatigue against Australian wildcard Alexei Popyrin when he trailed by two sets and a break.
Serena Williams has reached the final in her two previous slams and she looked in fine form against former Top 10 player Bouchard who has slipped down the rankings in recent years. Serena established a 3-0 lead early on and held on to win the first set 6-2. In the second set Bouchard held on till 2-2 before Williams reeled off 4 games in a row to win the match in 70 minutes.
“It wasn’t an easy match tonight. Genie has been to the finals of Wimbledon and the semifinals of other Grand Slams, so I said, ‘You’ve got to come out hot, come out firing.” Serena said about her encounter with Bouchard.
The World No.1 Halep led Kenin 6-3, 3-0 and then had to fight hard as Kenin raised her level as Halep played more cautious. Kenin stormed back to take the second set and stayed tough in the final set. Kenin saved a clutch of break points to stay level at 2-2 and then displayed terrific temperament to break Halep and take the lead 4-2 in the deciding set. But Halep fought back to win four games in a row to survive the upset bid. She will next face Venus Williams who fought past Alize Cornet in three sets.
After the match, Halep said, “It’s so tough to explain what happened on court, but it was a very tough one against an amazing player. It was really difficult to stay there for every ball, to run so much. I got a little bit injured in the second set but I just fought, because I wanted to win and to come back here. Hopefully in the next round, I’ll play better and make a better match.”
In a late match, former World No.1 Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta played a long high quality encounter that ended at 3:12 AM with the Spaniard coming through with the win 6-4, 6-7(3), 7-5. The match started at 12:30 AM due to the long matches and Muguruza was in control for a set and half before the rain interruption. After the roof closure, Konta raised her level further to level the match at one set all. The third set too saw both players hold on to their serve before Muguruza seized her chance at 6-5 coming up with some terrific returns to put the British player under pressure and broke through to win the match.