In his 2013 Australian Open debut, world #1 Novak Djokovic took a crisp step forward toward his goal of becoming the first man in the Open era to win three straight major titles Down Under. Facing the unheralded but talented Paul-Henri Mathieu, the world #1 wasted little time under the Melbourne sun in confirming his position among the favorites in the men’s draw.
The two-time defending champion wasted no time in signaling his intent with a vicious backhand winner down the line. A meek forehand error by Mathieu yielded his first service game to the Serb, who seemed content to play solid but not spectacular tennis. While the Frenchman looked nervous for much of the set, Djokovic emitted an air of calm confidence as he sauntered along the baseline. The qualifier struggled to take control of baseline rallies against his opponent’s suffocating defense, often attempting too aggressive a shot too early in the point.
When Djokovic broke Mathieu to start the second set, having taken the first 6-2, the Frenchman finally started to loosen the tension in his game and swing more freely. He earned double break point in the top seed’s first service game, only to see the Serb wriggle out of trouble. Mathieu managed to stay within range better in the second set than he had in the first, partly because he found his first serve more regularly. After the first two games, both men held serve without difficulty as Djokovic continued to keep his nose front before closing out the set with a love service game.
If the task had looked insurmountable for Mathieu when the match began, it looked even more so once he trailed by two sets to love. In contrast to the first two sets, though, he kept the third interesting at first by holding his first service game. The two men then held serve smoothly in a series of short points as the Serb’s focus appeared to wane. Under slight pressure at 4-5, he brushed away the prospect of a fourth set with a quick service game that allowed Mathieu no ray of hope. Brilliant court coverage by the Serb in the following game opened a 0-30 door with an inspired lob-pass hybrid that left the Frenchman frozen at the net. Soon afterwards, Djokovic held the match on his racket and served out the straight-sets victory 6-2, 6-4, 7-5.
With one comfortable victory behind him, Djokovic will continue his quest for the historic three-peat against rising American Ryan Harrison, who defeated Santiago Giraldo in four sets to reach the second round. Djokovic has an undefeated record against Harrison so far, and his current form suggests that this trend will not change when they meet on Wednesday.