Six-time former champion Novak Djokovic extended his perfect record to 17-0 against qualifiers at major championships on Tuesday night as he began his Australian Open campaign with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over American Mitchell Kruger for a place in the second round.
World No. 1 Djokovic, who is hoping to capture his 15th Grand Slam championship crown and move ahead of Pete Sampras (14) in the all-time major singles title list, will now challenge France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 2008 finalist, who is returning from left knee surgery last year. Djokovic leads Tsonga 16-6 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.
Earlier in the day, Tsonga lost just three of his first-service points (50/53) and struck 23 aces in a 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(5) victory over Martin Klizan of Slovakia in two hours and 26 minutes.
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Having lost his first service game in the third game, Djokovic immediately bounced back to dominate baseline rallies and push around Krueger, who was playing just his second major championship match (2018 US Open). Djokovic won five straight games from 3-3 in the first set to 2-0 in the second set, and went on to break for a 4-1 advantage.
Qualifier Krueger, 25, saved break points in his first two service games — including five in the third game — to keep his opponent at bay in the third set. From 1-2 down, Djokovic got fired up, varying his groundstroke speed and placement, often striking to the two-handed backhand of Krueger, to win five straight games. Krueger struck a forehand return into the net to end the encounter, which lasted two hours and three minutes.
The 31-year-old Djokovic is bidding to win a third consecutive Grand Slam title and become the first man in history to record three streaks of three or more consecutive major titles (three straight titles in 2011-12 and four straight in 2015-16.)