Djokovic defeats Struff amid Australian bushfire tragedy

This year brings us the 108th edition of the Australian Open and the king of the Melbourne Park surface, Novak Djokovic, began his defence under bittersweet circumstances, as potential health concerns in Australia threaten to ridicule the event.

The world number two seed passed his first test of the Open in routine style against his German opponent Jan-Lennard Struff. The Serbian seven time champion, on quest to reclaim his spot as top of the pile in the world rankings, started as he meant to go on, coming up trumps 7-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-1.

Djokovic was pushed all the way in the first set. Despite flying into a 5-2 lead, Struff deservedly earned a tiebreak after finding his form and countering everything that Djokovic had to offer. With the scores locked at 6-6, Djokovic edged the tiebreaker 7-5 to claim the set in 50 minutes.

The second set was a little more routine for Djokovic, who successfully fought off a resolute Struff. Despite appearing to make a handful of uncharacteristic errors combined with Struff’s lethal forehand, the gulf in class was still very apparent heading into the third set of the tie.

The German challenger showed a credible resilience and certainly didn’t go down without a fight, breaking 0-2 in the final set. Despite Djokovic clawing back this scoreline, Struff’s killer second serve and stern hitting were proving a problem as he kept firm to break three games clear. A new found silkiness had emerged to Struff’s game and he was ultimately rewarded with a third set in which he dominated, after a worrying string of Djokovic double faults.

Struff has never beaten Djokovic in competition

The pair had met twice previously prior to the opening men’s singles game of the open, with Djokovic coming out straight sets victor on both occasions. Struff finally had a set on his opponent.

Despite a strong array of confidence, holding his own in the fourth and consequently decisive set was always going to be the issue for 29 year old Struff. Normal service was certainly resumed as Djokovic began to wake up, with his opponent never really recovering from the dismal start to the set. It almost appeared that Struff had accepted defeat and all the energy he consumed in his winning set began to take a toll. Djokovic ran riot 6-1 to close out the game.

This contest may not have been the piece of cake everyone had predicted, but of course Novak Djokovic and that fourth set certainly proved to be the cherry on top of that cake. With a match time of two hours eighteen minutes, Struff’s frequently efficient defence and beefy returns were undone by the revived elegance of Djokovic’s game.

The seasoned champion pushed off a sometimes erratic Struff, who went toe to toe with Djokovic for large periods of the encounter. The German’s technique and groundstrokes were superb at times, but no match for the Eastern-European kingpin, who marches into the second round.

The victory was viewed from the stands by one less than usual in Djokovic’s corner, after splitting with strategy analyst Craig O’Shannessy on the eve of the Open. They enjoyed many success in their short term partnership, with Novak lifting the Australian Open title (2019), two Wimbledon titles (2018, 2019) and the US Open (2018) in that time.

Djokovic was already in fine fettle heading into the first domestic grand slam of the year, as he lead Serbia to an ATP singles and doubles cup clean-up for the first time in his career, but the humble Serb believes he may have over exerted his body after winning six single matches and two doubles games respectively in Sydney.

Jan-Lennard Struff is no pushover, coming into the tournament as world number 37, but has consistently struggled in grand slams for the majority of his career. After this sixth attempt against Djokovic, the big game struggler has advanced into the next round of the Australian Open just once.

The day should’ve been about Djokovic, who certainly has the keys to Melbourne as he chases a record eighth Australian Open crown and is bookies favourite to retain the title this year.

However, the match and the world of tennis was overshadowed as a whole amidst the fatal bushfires currently wreaking havoc across Australia. The tournament as a whole was delayed as a result of the devastating effects currently unfolding down under, which has seen the unfortunate demise of 25 people and millions of animals. Multiple players have already pulled out of the tournament or threatened to boycott as a result of the conditions.

The flames wreaking havoc across Aussie soil

Canadian Denis Shapovalov says he will refuse to play if the smoke smothering the city will pose a risk to his health. These comments came after Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic was forced to retire from her qualifying match last Tuesday after collapsing into a coughing fit due to the obscene climate.

Djokovic and Struff appeared unfazed by the searing environment, however you can’t help but wonder that additional measures must be taken over the course of the next fortnight to ensure spectators and players alike avoid health scares of any kind.

The three main arenas used for the competition: the Rod Laver, Melbourne and Margaret Court arena’s all possess retractable roofs in the event of scorching temperatures. An extreme heat policy, integrated in 1988 after the tournaments move from grass courts to hard surface, allows for play to be stopped and caters for fans in attendance, with the construction of more shaded areas and misted fans for a more pleasant viewing experience.

The elite names of the game including Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams banded together to raise more than $3.5 million for bushfire relief by playing in an exhibition at Melbourne Park. Other players have also donated to the cause, including prize money, and credible donations for any aces hit or sets won.

The conditions are slowly taking a turn for the better all in perfect correlation with the opening of this forever anticipated competition. Air quality has seen a drastic upturn and there was even the welcomed addition of rainfall during the opening hours of day one. After the global awareness over the last month and discussion amongst Melbourne Park officials, you’d like to think that two weeks of tennis will go blissfully uninterrupted.

This first round test was no doubt Djokovic’s hardest possible face-off, but based on Novak’s recent successes, and the possibility of even facing Roger Federer in the semi-final of the competition, you’d still certainly favour the second city’s golden boy to engrave his name in the record books, reclaiming the $71 million (aus dollar) Australian Open prize.

Leave a Comment