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Defending Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic started his tournament with a 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over Fernando Verdasco on Tuesday. 

The second seed, who is chasing an incredible seventh title in Melbourne, lit up the Rod Laver Arena in the first set with some mesmeric tennis before grinding out a much tighter second stanza. Djokovic then upped the ante in the third to wrap the match up.

Here is a closer look at how Djokovic’s first match of the 2017 tournament played out, as he got his quest for a 13th Grand Slam triumph underway in impressive fashion Down Under.

     

Solid Start to Djokovic Defence


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Earlier this month, these two met in an epic encounter at the Qatar Open, with the 12-time Grand Slam winner saving five match points to beat the Spaniard. However, the early stages of this one did little to suggest that another tight clash was on the cards.

That’s because Djokovic came flying out of the traps. After a routine hold, the champion capitalised on some sloppy play from Verdasco to grab an early break and built up an ominous 5-0 lead in the first set; the underdog’s second serve was really hurting him, winning just two of eight points behind it in the opener.

Verdasco did eventually get a game on the board, holding his serve at the first time of asking in the sixth game. However, as we can see here courtesy of Eurosport, after 31 minutes of play, Djokovic clinched a masterful opening set with a swagger:

While the first set was as routine as could be for Djokovic, Verdasco came back at the start of the second, with both men struggling on serve.

The world No. 40 broke Djokovic to move 2-0 in front, but the next three games also went the way of the returner, and when the second seed finally held to make it 3-3, the set was back on serve.


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Verdasco fought hard in the second set.

From there neither man gave an inch, with Verdasco saving five break points in his last two service games to frustrate his illustrious opponent. Per Live Tennis, Djokovic was not happy after letting chances to clinch the set slip by:

It meant a tiebreak was needed to separate the pair, and while the Spaniard battled from 3-0 down to lead 4-3 at one stage, eventually the class of Djokovic took over on the key points, and he moved into a two-set lead.

Naturally, after working so hard in the previous set to no avail, Verdasco lacked conviction early on in the third and a double fault in his first service game saw Djokovic secure a break at the first opportunity. When the Serbian consolidated to move 3-0 up, the match was essentially all over.

Per George Bellshaw of Metro, at this point in the contest it seemed as though everything was going in the champion’s favour:

Verdasco did get on the board at 3-1 in the third set, although with Djokovic in total control of most points, he was merely suspending the inevitable. Eventually, the second seed saw the set out 6-2, setting up a Round 2 tussle with either Denis Istomin or Ivan Dodig.


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Djokovic was in total control in the final set.

Given what happened when the two players met in Qatar recently, this had the potential to be a tricky opener for the champion. However, Djokovic showcased the talent and tenacity that’s served him so well here in the past.

Having lost his status as the world’s best player to Andy Murray late in 2016, in the early stages of the 2017 Australian Open, Djokovic looks like a man that’s ready to regain that mantle.

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