Novak Djokovic could not hide his satisfaction after completing the first step on the road to a place in history at the Australian Open.
Bidding to become the first man in the Open era to win three successive titles in Melbourne, Djokovic hit the ground running yesterday to brush aside the potentially tricky Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu.
On his first appearance on Rod Laver Arena since his epic five-set triumph over Rafael Nadal 12 months ago, the world number one had a more straightforward afternoon, winning 6-2, 6-4, 7-5.
The first two sets were routine and although Mathieu upped his level as the match went on, Djokovic secured a break late in the third to move through to a meeting with American Ryan Harrison. “It was a good performance for a first round,” Djokovic said.
“I felt I was in control of the match in the opening two sets. Then, you know, he started playing better, striking the ball quite well from both sides on the baseline. I thought he was serving really precisely and really well.
“It was tough to break. But in the end, that 11th game, I made some good shots, good points and managed to go through in straight sets.”
With title challengers Roger Federer and Andy Murray not playing until tomorrow, Djokovic took the opportunity to send a message that he was not willing to give up his crown without a fight.
But although largely satisfied, he admitted there was still room for improvement. “There are some adjustments that I need to make and get a little bit sharper on the court,” he said.
“But it’s expected in the first match that you’re still not 100 per cent on the court. You’re trying to be, but it’s going to get better with matches that I play.”
On a day largely free of upsets, fourth seed David Ferrer and fifth seed Tomas Berdych also advanced with ease. Ferrer proved too strong for Belgian Olivier Rochus, winning 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, and Berdych beat Michael Russell 6-3, 7-5, 6-3.