MELBOURNE :Novak Djokovic finally hit his stride at the Australian Open on Friday as he sent Argentine Tomas Etcheverry packing 6-3 6-3 7-6 (2) in the third round and marched into the second week of the tournament for the 16th time.
The 10-times champion, who was dragged into dogfights in the first two rounds, gave a masterclass in clean and clinical tennis for two sets as he picked apart the 24-year-old Argentine in his 100th match at Melbourne Park.
Etcheverry had seen off 36-year-old Andy Murray in the opening round and 37-year-old Gael Monfils in the second, but found the 36-year-old Djokovic an altogether different prospect.
The 30th seed was unable to land a punch on the 24-times Grand Slam champion, who did not face a single break point, until a revival in the third set finally gave the crowd the contest they wanted.
Djokovic, the top seed and reigning champion, clearly did not want to play a fourth set as he continues to struggle with a cold-like ailment and raced through the tiebreak and into the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the 63rd time.
“It was the best performance during this tournament and obviously I’m pleased with how I played throughout the entire match, particularly in the first two sets,” said the Serbian, who hit 34 winners over the match.
“He stepped it up in the third set … (but) in the tiebreaker I found the right shots, the right serves and closed it out in straight sets.”
The first week of a Grand Slam for top seeds is first of all about getting through against keen lower-ranked players looking to snatch the limelight with an upset.
At the Australian Open, there is also the balancing act of wanting enough time on court to get properly match fit after the off-season break and needing to conserve energy for the business end of the tournament.
Djokovic probably expended more energy than he wanted in the first two rounds but on Friday always looked like he was in control, even when Etcheverry came back at him at the end.
Next up for Djokovic is France’s 20th seed Adrian Mannarino who edged out American young gun Ben Shelton in five sets.
Djokovic has not faced Mannarino since 2018, holding a 4-0 lead over the 35-year-old, and with his form coming to the boil the Serbian is beginning to look hard to stop.
“I haven’t had a best out of the tournament in terms of the quality of tennis, but I’m in the fourth round,” Djokovic said.
“I believe that things will progress as the tournament goes on. That’s the case tonight and today.
“Hopefully every day will be better.”