Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams launched their Australian Open campaigns in style on Tuesday as Ivo Karlovic smashed a record 75 aces in an unprecedented, 84-game marathon.
Djokovic and Williams have both dropped to world number two and faced awkward opposition, but they won in straight sets against Fernando Verdasco and Belinda Bencic respectively.
Rafael Nadal also rolled into round two before Karlovic outlasted Horacio Zeballos in an epic that stretched for five hours, 15 minutes and ended 6-7 (6/8), 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 22-20.
Karlovic beat Thomas Johansson’s Australian Open record of 51 aces in a match, set in 2005, and 84 games was a new mark for the tournament in the tiebreak era, edging the 83 in Andy Roddick’s 2003 defeat of Younes El Aynaoui.
It was one of the longest matches in the tournament’s history in terms of time, although still short of the five hours, 53 minutes played by Djokovic and Nadal in the 2012 men’s final.
The denouement, when it finally came, was almost comical as an exhausted Karlovic chipped a hopeful lob over Zeballos, only for the Argentine to send a wayward forehand rocketing out of the court.
“This is what I will, after my career, remember. If it was easy match or I lost easy, I wouldn’t remember. But this one definitely I will remember forever,” said the Croatian.
As the drama played out on Court 19, Djokovic gave further evidence of his return to form as he convincingly saw off Verdasco 6-1, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena.
Djokovic fell off the top of the rankings during a sudden slump last year but he showed signs of a revival by beating new world number one Andy Murray in this month’s Doha final.
He fended off five match points against Verdasco in the Doha semis, and had to fight through a 71-minute second set against the Spanish left-hander for his win on Tuesday.
‘Nothing to lose’ -
It was Djokovic’s 15th straight win at the Australian Open as he seeks his third straight title and his seventh overall, which would break Roy Emerson’s record set in the 1960s.
“I’m very pleased with the first round, considering I had one of the toughest first-round draws, definitely considering his form, how well he played against me in Doha,” Djokovic said.