18 Jan 2017

Djokovic, Nadal make winning starts in Melbourne

6:16 am on 18 January 2017

Tennis World No.2 Novak Djokovic feels his tough first-round win over Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco could be the ideal springboard to launch an assault on an unprecedented seventh Australian Open title.

Novak Djokovic in action at the Australian Open.

Novak Djokovic. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The reigning champion overcame a mid-match hiccup to press his claims with a 6-1 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 victory in their opening round clash on Rod Laver Arena last night.

The world No.2 said that taking on the former top-10 player, who shocked Rafael Nadal in five sets in the opening round of the Australian Open last year, could be a blessing.

"From one perspective it was good that I got to have the very tough first-round match because it made me prepare better and kind of approach this match and the tournament with the right intensity right from the blocks, right from the first point," Djokovic said.

"I'm very pleased, considering I had one of the toughest first-round draws and definitely considering his form.

"Just overall I'm feeling good about my performance."

Djokovic was almost unstoppable in the opening set with 33-year-old Verdasco only managing to hold serve at 0-5.

But there were shades of their most recent meeting at the Doha tournament earlier this month, when world No.40 Verdasco had five match points.

Unforced errors crept into Djokovic's play as he was broken early.

Verdasco led 4-3 in the tiebreak only for the Serb to reel off the next four points to take a two set lead.

With the win in sight, Djokovic put his foot down and wrapped up the match in comfortable fashion.

"I started really well and had a great first set and great third set, as well," the 29-year-old said.

"The second set was a long set with a lot of unforced errors from both sides.

"But at the end of the day, I knew that winning second set would be crucial because I definitely didn't want to give him wings."

Djokovic next faces wildcard Denis Istomin from Uzbekistan.

Also through to the second round is the super-impressive Rafael Nadal, who said he didn't feel like the world No.9 in his first round victory.

He didn't play like it either.

Fully fit again, firing on serve and feeling the love of the crowd at Rod Laver Arena, the 14-time major winner made a mockery of his unusually low seeding.

The Spaniard was never troubled on serve as he trounced German veteran Florian Mayer 6-3 6-4 6-4.

It came almost a year to the day since Nadal was sent packing at the same stage of the 2016 Open by countryman Verdasco.

That was the start of a troubled campaign that ended prematurely in mid-October due to a painful left wrist injury, leaving Nadal with his lowest year-end ranking since 2004.

"It was great to be back on the big stadium and I felt the support of the people, the love of the people," said Nadal.

"That is something that is very special for me.

"I am happy with the way I am playing.

"I had good weeks of practice and it's never easy in the first round.

"It's always little bit more nerves at the beginning."

Nadal was particularly imperious on serve and did not give Mayer a single break- point opportunity.

"When I win my serve, there is two things," said the 2009 champion.

"Obviously, you need to serve well, but the most important thing is I'm not a player who win the serves because I serve aces or free points.

"When I'm winning a lot of serves it's because I am playing well from the baseline."

Nadal admitted it felt odd to enter a major seeded as low as ninth, which means he could face sixth seed Gael Monfils in the round of 16.

"It makes a difference," he said.

"It's much better to be No.1 than No.9, there's no question about that.

But I am No.9 today - that's the real thing.

"I'm going to fight to not be worst, and I'm going to fight to again be better. I feel that if I am playing well and I am healthy, I can be much better."

It was the seventh straight time that the 33-year-old Mayer had been beaten in the opening round of a grand slam event.