Novak Djokovic forced to work hard for Australian Open first-round win over Jan-Lennard Struff

Ben Bloom
Novak Djokovic is looking to win an eighth Australian Open title - Getty Images AsiaPac


The winner speaks

Novak Djokovic after his 900th win on the ATP Tour:

I thought I started off well. Then he turned it around. He was not missing much in the third set. Credit to him for fighting. He is a powerful player and brings a lot of strength to his shots.

I'm expected to win most of my matches and there are a lot of different emotions but I try to remind myself to enjoy it and tonight I did.



Djokovic wins

The reigning champion is through. Struff showed admirable fight until the final 20 minutes or so and he claimed an unexpected third set. But it is Djokovic who reaches the second round.


GAME, SET, MATCH: Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 2-6, 6-1 Struff

It's come down to this then: Struff is serving to stay in the match. And not doing a great job. The wind seems to have gone from his sails. Perhaps he used all his energy up in winning the third set. Djokovic hits a cracking cross-court forehand winner to set up three match points at 0-40. And he completes the job at the second time of asking.


Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 2-6, 5-1 Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

You sense that this should cruise towards its natural conclusion now. Whatever happened in that third set is long gone. The serve is too accurate and too strong for Struff to stand much of a chance and the German lofts a backhand far too long to concede the game to 15.


*Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 2-6, 4-1 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

Things are starting to go astray for Struff now. Either he's acing points away or he's struggling to stay in them. Djokovic has one break point... and Struff double faults. That really should be that.


Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 2-6, 3-1 Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

The turn around in Djokovic's serve since whatever happened at the end of the previous set is laughable. It takes a brilliant Struff forehand to even win one point here - but it's the only one the German claims.


*Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 2-6, 2-1 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

Anything you can do... etc. Struff also holds to love in super quick time.


Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 2-6, 2-0 Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

That was precisely the start Struff didn't want. Is this going to be a case of waking the beast? It does look that way with Djokovic's serve back on point. Did he effectively concede the last two points of the third set??? Bizarre. He holds to love in a flash here. Serving perfection.


*Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 2-6, 1-0 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

Djokovic gave Struff that set with back-to-back double faults. And the German now begins the fourth set with a double fault of his own. What's going on out there? I'll tell you what's going on: Djokovic is back. A rapid 0-40 lead means three break points... and Djokovic comes out on top of a long rally to break hastily in the first game.


Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 2-6 Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

This game could become rather meaningless now in a way. It's all about whether Struff can hold his serve next time round. Or is it? A Djokovic double fault hints that things may not all be going to plan... and Struff takes it to deuce. Troubles for the Serb? Yes, very much. Set point for Struff. And he takes it at the first opportunity thanks to another Djokovic double fault!


*Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 2-5 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

Right then. The last time this happened, Struff was unable to follow his break by holding serve. Will he do better here? He opens up a quick 30-0 lead, but then goes long to allow Djokovic to level. This is crucial now. Oh he's done it again - sailing a forehand long to gift a break point straight back. But a magical volley at full stretch on his backhand brings deuce. Then another deuce. And finally Struff holds. Well done.


Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 2-4 Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

There's been some really impressive footwork from both players during this match and it continues here with Struff getting the better of a 24-shot rally. A fortunate net cord puts him 0-30 up and a Djokovic error at the net gives Struff two break points at 15-40. The first is all that is needed as Djokovic again finds the net. Struff breaks again!


*Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 2-3 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

Struff's second serve is still proving a weakness. His points won on it has increased, but it's still only at 44 per cent. No bother when he lands the first serve though and he does just as Djokovic did in the previous game and holds to 15.


Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 2-2 Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

Back on serve now in this third set. And Djokovic ensures no repeat of his last service game with a couple of fine aces as he holds to 15.


*Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 1-2 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

Well that break was unexpected, but the German simply cannot be broken straight back here. He must hammer home the advantage. Djokovic has other ideas to move into a 0-30 lead, before Struff slams an ace down the middle and then comes to the net to take the next point as well. Djokovic gambles on a wide Struff first serve to hit a sumptuous forehand winner down the line and then the break of serve comes with Struff hitting gently into the net.


Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 0-2 Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

Struff is not giving in. Yet more fine work from the baseline precedes a killer forehand winner to go 0-30 up and he then capitalises on a woefully slow Djokovic second serve to earn three break points at 0-40! Djokovic sends his forehand wide and that's the break complete to love!!! Wow. Game on.


*Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 0-1 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

Does this match now slide serenely away from Struff or can the German produce something memorable? He has tried admirably throughout this match, even in a second set with a scoreline that suggests otherwise. He races into a 40-0 lead on serve here before losing the next two points and then missing a backhand volley at the net that was something of a gimme at this level. That bring one deuce and then another, before Struff finally puts things away. Such an important hold of serve.


Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

This should be simple enough for Djokovic to claim the second set now. The length on his shots impeccably deep and, in spite of some fine defensive work, Struff just cannot gain a foothold. Djokovic wins the game to 30 and that's a two-set lead.


*Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 5-2 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

Brutal from Djokovic on his opponent's serve as Struff is worked all over the place and ends up sticking a backhand low into the net. The German - who is showing admirable resilience - takes a bit of extra time to catch his breath, but Djokovic looks like a lion going in for the kill. 0-15 becomes 0-30 becomes 0-40 and three break points. He requires just one of them, producing arguably the shot of the match to totally wrong-foot Struff and send him packing courtesy of a deft cross-court forehand at full stretch.


Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 4-2 Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

KaBlam. Djokovic serve is on point. Aces and unreturnables aplenty mean a hold to love.


*Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 3-2 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

Yes, yes, yes. More fine work from Struff, whose serve has returned and allows him to race through and hold to 15.


Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 3-1 Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

Oh hello! Oohs and aaahs galore around the stadium as Struff defends resolutely, flings an overhead backhand to stay in the rally and somehow wins the point to take a 0-30 lead on Djokovic's serve. A break would be quite something. But it's not happening this time as Djokovic digs deep and holds. He's being made to work hard by his German opponent though.


*Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 2-1 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

Ha, that is ridiculous. Djokovic comes to the net, Struff puts every ounce of energy into a lethal forehand that possesses the power to kill... and Djoko just kills it dead with his volley to the delight of the crowd. Things are looking dicey for Struff at 15-30, but he manages to find a lovely backhand down the line to see the game out, fist pumps and bellows a loud: "come on". An important hold.

Credit: afp


Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 2-0 Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

Something tells me Djokovic didn't enjoy that first set too much. He holds to love here in super quick time. Quite magnificent when in full flow.


*Djokovic 7-6 (7-5), 1-0 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

Losing that first set will be a real blow to Struff's hopes and his serve seems to have deserted him here. Yep, an immediate break for Djokovic who claims the opening game of the second set to 15. That was really rather easy for the No 2 seed.


Djokovic 7-6 (7-5) Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

This is already tougher than many people thought it would be for Djokovic. Can Struff take the first set here? A wide forehand from the German gives Djokovic a 2-0 lead and that is extended to 3-0 with a sublime backhand past a Struff at full stretch at the net. Struff then shows hugely impressive resilience to stay in a rally at the back of the court for 3-1. And his doggedness prevails again to bring it back to 4-3. Djokovic knows he's in a real battle here and he is rather annoyed with himself for looping a gentle backhand way long for 5-4. A Struff forehand into the net gives Djoko two set points. And he takes the second of them. Hard work, but the defending champion is finally up and running after 50 minutes.


*Djokovic 6-6 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

Can Struff take it to a tie-break? He's hitting some fine groundstrokes from the back of the court and manoeuvring Djokovic all over the place as he moves into a 30-0 lead. A poor Djokovic backhand puts Struff 40-15 up and he holds. Tie-break time.


Djokovic 6-5 Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

Erm, that game didn't last long. Djokovic holds to 15 with a minimum of fuss.


*Djokovic 5-5 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

So that was the hard bit in breaking his opponent. Now Struff has to hold his own serve. A thunderous forehand out wide from the German leaves Djokovic with a look of disbelief as the reigning champion slips 30-0 down. And Struff ends up winning the game with ease. Very well done.


Djokovic 5-4 Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

Time for the inevitable? Perhaps not! Some excellent footwork allows Struff to pass Djoko at the net with a cracking backhand to take an unlikely 0-30 lead. And the German then earns two break points at 15-40! He sticks the first into the net off a wide Djoko serve... but takes the second as Djokovic goes long! Struff stays alive in this set.


*Djokovic 5-3 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

Struff has new balls in hand as he attempts to stay in this first set. Djokovic offers a wry smile after attempting a Kyrgios-esque drop shot more befitting of an exhibition match than a grand slam, which plops meekly into the net. Not the kind of thing you normally see him do. It's soon back to business though at 30-30 as a telling stat flashes up showing Struff has won just 17 per cent of his second serves. It's all about his first serve, which comes to the rescue to save a set point and he goes on to hold.


Djokovic 5-2 Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

Another one of those games that seems to disappear before you realise. Struff manages to win one point, but that's all as Djokovic marches on towards claiming the first set.


*Djokovic 4-2 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

Ooh yes, we like a bit of that Mr Struff. Djoko attempts a drop shot, but Struff advances to the net and then puts away a sublime volley. The trouble is that only levels the score at 15-15 and Djoko soon takes a 15-40 lead for two break points. He requires just one of them. Djokovic is an expert at soaking up anything Struff throws at him.


Djokovic 3-2 Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

Sometimes you have to just smile. Struff's groundstrokes are superb and yet he is powerless as Djokovic works him all over the court before a wonderful forehand winner down the line. The reigning champion has to work harder than he did on his last service game, but still holds to 15.


*Djokovic 2-2 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

A lot is going to depend on Struff's serve in this match. When it's strong, it's a fine weapon. When it fails to land, Djokovic gobbles it up. His radar is well calibrated here and he holds to 15.


Djokovic 2-1 Struff* (*denotes next to serve)

Stupidly easy hold for Djokovic. Two aces and two unreturned serves.


*Djokovic 1-1 Struff (*denotes next to serve)

Ok Struffy, what have you got? The German - cap backwards atop his head - eases into a 30-0 lead before Djoko leathers a forehand winner and Struff sticks one into the net to level at 30-30. Some fine far-left to far-right work gives Struff a game point and he sees it out with an ace. That will help him settle.


Djokovic 1-0 Struff*  (*denotes next to serve)

Djoko has ball in hand to kick things off... with a fault. No bother, that quickly becomes 30-0 despite some fine groundstrokes from Struff. The trouble with Djokovic is that he's just so damned good at defending. A hold to 15, with the only conceded point courtesy of a long forehand.


Game on

"Two minutes," says the umpire as the players finish knocking up. These two players have met twice before and, unsurprisingly, Novak has won both matches.


This is pretty cool

The players have just emerged on court. While they get themselves prepared, watch this:


Game, set and match

After losing the first set 5-7, Ashleigh Barty crashed back to win the next two sets 6-1, 6-1 and has seen off Lesia Tsurenko to advance to the second round. Which means... it's Djoko time.


Sunglasses required

Oh my word, have you seen Grigor Dimitrov's tracksuit clobber???


Barty's back

The Aussie world No 1 has rattled through to take the second set 6-1 against Tsurenko out on Rod Laver. So we go to a decider.


Essential reading

While we wait for this match to begin, please do have a read of this piece (with a taster below):

Revealed: The leading coaches with doping pasts

After the recent news that two high-profile players will miss today’s Australian Open after testing positive for banned steroids, an urgent question hangs over this showpiece event. Does tennis have a doping problem?

This week in Melbourne, The Daily Telegraph spoke to leading players about the positive tests of world No 78 Nicolas Jarry and reigning Wimbledon doubles champion Robert Farah. We encountered a widespread belief that both men would be exonerated, having suffered from cross-contamination.

“I can’t imagine these guys are dopers,” said world No 5 Dominic Thiem. “It is ridiculous and is completely made up, for us. It’s a mistake in the system.”

Yet there is proof that doping exists in the sport. Players test positive and former players who served doping bans still work in the game.


Upset on the cards

Is there a shock in store on Rod Laver? World No 1 and face of this tournament Ashleigh Barty has lost the first set of her first-round match against Lesia Tsurenko 7-5. This match follows that, so if Barty comes back to win in three sets you will have to wait a bit longer for this to begin.


Not a lot of action

Some news from out in Melbourne:

Which means there will be six Brits in action tomorrow, including Johanna Konta whose first-round match with Ons Jabeur was called off today.


The champion returns

Good morning tennis fans. It's time for the 2020 men's grand slam season to begin with reigning Aussie Open champion Novak Djokovic back to defend his title in Melbourne.

The Serb has won four of his last six slams and is a a SEVEN-time Australian Open champion. A pretty daunting prospect for his opponent today: Jan-Lennard Struff, of Germany.

The Struffmeister is no lowly pushover, as shown by his world ranking of 37. He doesn't have a great record in grand slams over the course of his career, but - at the age of 29 - is improving on the biggest stage, reaching the fourth round at the French Open and third round at Wimbledon last year. The bad news is he has only once made it to the second round in five attempts Down Under.

A glimmer though? Speaking ahead of this match, Djokovic said his exertions in leading Serbia to victory at the inaugural ATP Cup had taken "a lot" of energy.

Djokovic won six singles matches and two doubles contests at that tournament in Sydney and admitted:

I did not have such an intensive couple of weeks before the Australian Open for many years.

It was a lot of physical and emotional energy being spent in the ATP Cup, which of course was perfect for me individually, I won all my matches in singles and doubles. We as a team won the title, which was definitely one of the highlights of my career.

I keep saying that winning with my friends, with the team, representing my country, winning team competitions, is definitely something that I cherish and that fulfils me truly.

It was a phenomenal couple of weeks and a great lead-up to the Australian Open. But it did take a lot out of me. I did adjust my training sessions towards that, so I had a little bit more recuperation rather than just stepping on the accelerator a little bit more.

Djokovic - a strong favourite to win an eighth Aussie Open title next week - is a general 1/100 shot to win this match, while you can get around 22/1 on Struff if you fancy the German. A clear indication of how this is expected to go.