If Serbia’s rising star Novak Djokovic is feeling the pressure of being tagged the next big thing in men’s tennis he certainly was not showing it as he produced a devastating first-round performance at the 2008 Australian Open at Melbourne Park today.
The world number three showed why he is the player considered most likely to end the recent Grand Slam dominance of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal – who between them have won 13 of the past 14 majors over the past four years.
The man who reached last year’s US Open final against Federer as well as the semi-finals of the French Open and Wimbledon, cruised into the second round on day two with a 6-0 6-2 7-6 (5) win over German Benjamin Becker – the man who famously ended Andre Agassi’s career at the 2006 US Open.
Such was Djokovic’s dominance that he needed less than an hour to win the opening two sets as he hit 23 winners to just 22 unforced errors for the match.
Afterwards the 20-year-old spoke of the additional pressure he is under these days after cutting his ranking from number 83 to number three in just two years.
“Of course having such a great season (last year) and getting to third place in the world it’s a big pleasure and I’m really happy for that,” said Djokovic, whose performance on Tuesday was a far cry from his first round loss here two years ago to American journeyman Paul Goldstein.
“But on the other hand it’s a big responsibility as well, knowing there are a lot of expectations (on me).”
Djokovic admitted he was feeling the pressure of going into this year’s Australian Open as the player considered the next most likely player to win a Grand Slam tournament.
“It’s natural you feel the pressure,” he said.
“If you don’t feel pressure something is wrong with you but it’s a matter of how you deal with the pressure.
“I’m trying not to think about that too much – about the expectations, about people saying ’you’ve got enough quality to win a Grand Slam this year’, especially in Australia or the US because of the hard courts.”
Djokovic said he did not believe this year was a make or break year for him in terms of Grand Slam success.
“It’s very flattering when people talk about me in a positive way of course but it puts a lot of pressure on you,” he said.
“But I’m only 20 years old so hopefully I’m going to have another 10 or 15 years of professional tennis.”
But while Djokovic could hardly have been more impressive, it was yet another disappointing Australian Open for number 17 seed Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia, who bowed out in the second round for the second successive year.
The former world number three has now gone out in the first week at Melbourne Park in eight of his nine visits after losing in four sets to little-known Dutch qualifier Robin Haase on court 18.
But the other seeds in action on day two had little trouble reaching the second round.
number 10 seed David Nalbandian of Argentina, who has reached the fourth round or better at Melbourne Park in the past five years, was untroubled in thrashing Australian wildcard entrant Robert Smeets 6-1 6-1 7-6 (3) while Spain’s number 25 seed Fernando Verdasco also progressed in straight sets.
Cypriot Marcus Baghdatis, the 2006 Australian Open runner-up, downed Sweden’s 2002 Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson 7-6 (0) 6-2 3-6 6-3 to set up a potential second round meeting with 2005 Australian Open champion Marat Safin.
Other players to advance to the second round on day two included 21st seed Juan Monaco of Argentina as well as American Amer Delic and Italy’s Simone Bollelli.