Novak Djokovic overcomes heat from Dino Prizmic at Australian Open

Novak Djokovic (Image: Australian Open Twitter/X)

Even Novak Djokovic can have a hard day at work. On Sunday, in melting Melbourne, the winner of 24 Grand Slam titles was kind of down under, in a different sense, as he needed four sets to prevail in a first-round encounter lasting four hours and one minute.
The young man who rocked the Novak boat at the Australian Open was Croatia’s Dino Prizmic, a wild card from Split – Goran Ivanisevic’s hometown – who was almost unheard of till Sunday night. That the Serbian king could pull off a win was due to his experience, especially at the year’s first Grand Slam, where he has not lost a match since 2018. For the record, the defending champion, on course for a 11th title in Melbourne, was thrown out of the tournament in 2022 over his no-vaccine-jab status.
First round matches at a Grand Slam are a bit hard and nightmarish. More so when you are playing on a Sunday, and not a Monday. For commercial reasons that rake in the big bucks, the Australian Open commenced a day earlier, and has come in for copious flak from John McEnroe.

It did look for a while as though Sunday was an off-day for Djokovic, as he lost the second set to a player who does not really belong on this big stage. At the Rod Laver arena, where the tennis flowed and copious lager was consumed by the fans to cope with the heat, it was Prizmic who took the prize for battling.

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But then, as the contest wore on, Djokovic settled down, fine-tuned his own groundstrokes and found his range with the racquet. The rare thing, so to say, was Djokovic making so many unforced errors. Known for his ruthless consistency and pushing the opponents hard, he rifled in 49 unforced errors. In contrast, he had just 40 winners.
There is a big difference in a tennis match when the favourite struggles against a young man of just 18. Novak is double Prizmic’s age, but if you are going to call him old, that would be mindless. This ageless wonder has been breaking all kinds of records, almost beyond the limits of being a human.

Greatness, did we hear? Well, statistics alone do not define greatness – it’s the game, temperament and sealing wins in big matches. Djokovic did just that against a fearless Prizmic who went for broke in his major outing under the arc lights.
After the match, Djokovic predicted a great future for Prizmic. “He deserves every applause, every credit he got tonight,” said Djokovic in the post-match interview. “He (Prizmic) is an amazing player, I must say, so mature for his age.”

Dino Prizmic (Image: Australian Open)

Just to jog the readers’ memory, Djokovic has battled a few fitness issues in his last two appearances at the Australian Open. Last year, he had a hamstring tear. This year, he has arrived in Melbourne with a painful and sore right wrist. But even that doesn’t explain all the unforced errors in Round 1 at an arena he loves so much. The hype over a possible 11th Australian Open title is realistic. Rafael Nadal has flown back to Spain from Brisbane after getting hurt again, and the young pretenders like Carlos Alcaraz and Holger Rune will have to be brilliant to win seven matches in this Melbourne heat.

Matches like these, where Djokovic needs over four hours to win, can take a toll on the body. But the way he found a way to win is testament to his mastery of the big stage. Forget the mistakes he made, when he needed to come up with the big points, Djokovic was ready.
To say that the match caught the imagination of one and all would be stating the obvious. One of the prominent guests in Melbourne this time is Andre Agassi, the pin-up boy of yesteryear. Liken the other spectators, Agassi, too, was cheering for the numero uno.
The Australian Open has begun, Djokovic is in round two, and all is well with the script for now.

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