Novak Djokovic made his way into the third round of the Australian Open defeating Frenchman Gael Monfils in four sets 4-6 6-3 6-1 6-3. The game was found wanting for quality as both players struggled under extremely hot conditions in Melbourne but the Serb held on to make his way further into the tournament.
The game, which lasted two hours and forty five minutes, started off with Djokovic struggling to get into a groove as he was down 0-3 in the opening set. However, he dug deep to come back 3-3 in the set, but the Frenchman persisted and reaped the rewards of taking the game to the six time champion by winning the first set.
Monfils was struggling under the excruciating heat and that reflected on his game in the second and third set, which were littered with unforced errors, allowing Djokovic a route back into the game. He persevered in the fourth set as Monfils tried to force a comeback of sorts but the conditions were too much for him to handle as he gave away after a hard-fought last few games.
Djokovic will now play Spain's 21st seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas on Saturday but will be delighted with the result, coming back into competitive tennis after a six month lay-off. It was not a game to remember, strewn with errors at both ends. There were 26 double faults in the game and a flurry of unforced errors but Djokovic will be happy to hold his ground while Monfils will be disappointed given the circumstances of his defeat.
Meanwhile, it might be too soon to say whether Djokovic a serious contender for the title this year – replicating Roger Federer's feat last year – but he's still in the mix and is likely to get better as the tournament progresses. The Serb stood a spent figure after the game but thanked the crowd at the Rod Laver Arena for their support.
"We both suffered on the court today. Really tough conditions, brutal - especially for the first hour and a half. I was coming into the match knowing it was going to be a big challenge for both of us. Gael is one of the best athletes in our sport, maybe the best athlete, he gets a lot of balls back and has a big serve. I was just hanging in there trying to make the most of opportunities," Djokovic said in his post match interview.
"Obviously he wasn't at his best at the end of the second set and into the third. The fourth could have gone either away but it's great to be back at the Rod Laver Arena.
"The elbow is not at 100 per cent but it's building. I had a lot of faith and self-belief and I know what I'm capable of. It's always amazing playing on this court. This has been the single most successful court I've ever played on in my entire career."