The Base Line: Novak Djokovic given stern first-round test as Australian Open begins


The Base Line: Novak Djokovic given stern first-round test as Australian Open begins

Djokovic passed a tough test under the skies of Melbourne
Djokovic passed a tough test under the skies of MelbourneProfimedia
In a new weekly feature, Flashscore's Tolga Akdeniz rounds up all the big results and issues from the non-stop, unabating world of tennis.

Well, it's been a pretty busy week. The first Grand Slam of the year kicked off in Melbourne on a Sunday for the first time ever, while we also had a handful of champions from various ATP and WTA tournaments in Australia and New Zealand.

But of course, the place to start is the Australian Open, with Novak Djokovic, Aryna Sabalenka and Naomi Osaka all already playing their opening-round matches.

Djokovic tested, Sabalenka - not so much

I can honestly say that before Sunday, I had never heard of Dino Prizmic. The Croatian 18-year-old made his Grand Slam debut, against no less than Novak Djokovic, and proceeded to give the greatest tennis player of all time a scare in a way no one has ever managed to in the first round of a major.

Prizmic fell 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 to the 24-time Grand Slam champion, but only after exactly four hours of top-drawer tennis from the youngster. Being able to win a tiebreak against Djokovic, and then to compete with the Serb in a best-of-five contest was a truly remarkable feat for someone with such little experience.

Incredibly, it was the longest first-round match Djokovic has ever played at a Grand Slam, showcasing just how immense Prizmic was.

His movement was terrific and his consistency from the baseline was so impressive. In fact, he was giving 'Baby Djok' vibes.

Djokovic even admitted that "it felt like playing himself."

Prizmic has now certainly shown the world the talent he possesses. I hope it's not a flash in the pan and we see him around for years to come. 

For Djokovic, is there a reason to be concerned after being pushed like this so early? No, not really. The best players are experts at pacing themselves and going through the gears at a Grand Slam. And usually, Djokovic cruises through the first rounds. But he simply didn't expect this lesser-known teenager to play like this. 

He will be glad to have passed such a test and will move on.

Someone who definitely wasn't tested was the women's reigning champion, Aryna Sabalenka. The Belarusian ruthlessly dispatched another 18-year-old, Ella Seidel, 6-0, 6-1 in 54 minutes.

It's a great start for her. She certainly looked sharp. Her huge hitting game suits the Australian Open, and this will be an early statement to the rest of the field. 

Maria Sakkari was another victor, finally clinching a win after losing in the first round in each of her last three Grand Slams. Coco Gauff, Caroline Wozniacki, Ons Jabeur and Elina Svitolina also all triumphed on the women's side.

On the men's side, Daniil Medvedev, Alex de Minaur and Jannik Sinner all progressed, while Taylor Fritz and Andrey Rublev needed five sets to make it to the second round. 

Another man who needed five sets to get a win was Felix Auger-Aliassime, who was involved in the match of the tournament so far against Dominic Thiem.

The pair played out a titanic battle which lasted four hours and 59 minutes. Auger-Aliassime was two sets to the good and 5-2 up in the third set tiebreak. But Thiem reeled off five consecutive points, before dragging the match back to two sets all.

However, Auger-Aliassime held his nerve, winning 6-3, 7-5, 6-7(5), 5-7, 6-3. There was some stupendous shot-making on show, with Thiem showing flashes of his brilliant down-the-line backhand.

Auger-Aliassime celebrates his win
Auger-Aliassime celebrates his winProfimedia

However, as has been the case for around 12 months, Auger-Aliassime showed his tendency to make the wrong decisions and make stupid errors on crucial points.

It frustrated me more than you can imagine because I've been the leader of the Canadian's fan club. He possesses so much ability. He should be competing with the likes of Carlos Alcaraz, Sinner and Holger Rune from the new generation.

However, he just hasn't developed the way people anticipated, and his results and performances have now regressed. I can only hope this win will give him some confidence though.

Osaka, Vondrousova and Murray dumped out

One of the most highly anticipated matches of the first round was between Naomi Osaka, who has just returned to the tour after giving birth six months ago, and 16th seed Caroline Garcia

In the end, Garcia came out on top, putting on a serving clinic, as she beat the four-time Grand Slam winner 6-4, 7-6(2). The Frenchwoman looked excellent, winning a whopping 89% of first serves. She has been really hit-or-miss recently. But here, she looked dialled in.

Osaka was evidently a bit rusty. She too served well, but there were just too many uncharacteristic errors in her game. And against an opponent who was serving so lights out, you cannot afford to do that. But all in all, she should be pleased. It's good to see her back, and her game is trending in the right direction.

Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova was also sent crashing out, losing 6-1, 6-2 to qualifier Dayana Yastremska in a huge upset.

The Czech had been struggling with an injury coming into the tournament, and perhaps that was an issue for her. She looked well out of sorts, as she struggled to compete with her 19-year-old opponent. 

Vondrousova looked far from her best
Vondrousova looked far from her bestProfimedia

Joining Osaka and Vondrousova in heading out of Melbourne, was Andy Murray.

Look, since Murray's hip surgery, we've seen him fall in the early rounds of Grand Slams before. But this felt a bit different. There was such a lack of urgency, fight, or purpose. This felt so different. This felt so un-Murray-like.

After being thumped by Tomas Martin Etcheverry 6-4, 6-2, 6-2, the Scot looked emotional and weary as he headed off the court. It felt like he knew we probably wouldn't see him back in Melbourne again. It felt like the Andy Murray chapter was coming to an end. 

"It's a definite possibility that will be the last time I play here", were the ominous words in his press conference.

It will be a sad day when Murray says goodbye to tennis. He is one of Britain's greatest-ever sportsmen. What he offered to the sport was nothing short of sensational.

He was a three-time Grand Slam winner, a 14-time Masters 1000 winner, a two-time Olympic singles gold medallist, a 46-time winner on the ATP Tour, and a world number one.

In the toughest era of men's tennis too. How many Grand Slams could he have won in any other era? His indomitable spirit and freakish athleticism saw him to the top of the game. Even though he was seen as a bland, boring character off-court, other players will tell you he was the opposite.

On the court, he was never afraid to express himself. He was pure box office. He is a modern great and no one should tell you otherwise. He will be missed when he departs.

Champions Lehecka and Ostapenko 

Let's move away from the Australian Open now. As previously mentioned, there were a few tournaments that went on just before the first Grand Slam of 2024.

In Adelaide, Jiri Lehecka won his first-ever ATP title and became the first Czech male to win on tour since Jiri Vesehly in 2020. 

The 22-year-old can be a dangerous player at the Australian Open, as he has shown before. This time last year, he defeated Cameron Norrie and Auger-Aliassime on his way to the quarter-finals. He is a good player with a big serve. One to potentially keep an eye on.

Jelena Ostapenko was the last person standing on the women's side, beating Daria Kasatkina in the final to clinch her seventh WTA title. 

Over in Auckland, Alejandro Tabilo also won his maiden ATP title, which made him the first Chilean to win a tournament on a hard court since 2007.

Another first-time winner was Emma Navarro, who became champion in Hobart. The American has had a great 12 months, rising from 149 in the world to 26. 

Unfortunately, Tabilo has already been knocked out of the Australian Open after losing to Aleksandar Kovacevic. The other three are set to get their campaigns started on Tuesday, with Navarro making her main draw debut.

What you might have missed

I save this section for moments you may have missed. So anything that went under the radar, any funny goings-on or interesting statistics. 

Someone I'm sure we will see here multiple times over the course of the year is the enigmatic, consistently inconsistent, unpredictable Alexander Bublik. The Kazakh was in action in Adelaide, and after finding himself in the crowd after trying to retrieve a shot, he decided to treat himself to a spectator's crisps.

In one of the sweetest moments of the week, Czech 16-year-old Brenda Fruhvirtova was in tears as she became the youngest woman to win an Australian Open singles main draw match since Gauff in 2020. Czech tennis, especially on the WTA Tour, is in a really good place.

Finally, after losing in the first round of Auckland, Richard Gasquet dropped out of the ATP Top 100 for the first time in 18 years, a number bettered by only Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Luckily for him, he begins his Australian Open against Carlos Alcaraz... Chance to go on a deep run then!

Tournaments this week

Australian Open Men - Novak Djokovic (1), Carlos Alcaraz (2), Daniil Medevedv (3), Jannik Sinner (4)

Australian Open Women - Iga Swiatek (1), Aryna Sabalenka (2), Elena Rybakina (3), Coco Gauff (4)

If you want to take a look at Flashscore's Australian Open coverage, you can check out some of our other feature articles below:

Flashscore's 2024 Australian Open predictions

10 of the most interesting stats about the men's Australian Open

10 of the most interesting stats about the women's Australian Open


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