By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Defending champion Novak Djokovic banished the ghosts of wildcards past by despatching Japan’s Tatsuma Ito 6-1 6-4 6-2 to sail into the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday.
The world number two was famously knocked out of the second round at Melbourne Park by Uzbek wildcard Denis Istomin three years ago in the upset of the tournament.
He had no such problem against Ito, who earned his place in the draw with victory in the Asia-Pacific wildcard playoff.
Having struggled through a four-set grind against unseeded German Jan-Lennard Struff in his opener, Djokovic was back to his imperious best as he fired down 16 aces and racked up 31 winners in a 95-minute romp at a gusty Rod Laver Arena.
“I came into the match and played extremely well at the beginning,” Djokovic told reporters, having stormed to a 5-0 first set lead in 15 minutes.
“I’m just overall pleased with the performance.
“It’s only the second round. I do have to keep going. I feel comfortable and confident playing in Australia. History of my results here have been very positive.”
Ito, a 31-year-old journeyman ranked 146th in the world, gave Djokovic a decent work-out in the second set but the Serb broke the match open with an inspired passage of play.
He scrambled to retrieve a drop-shot and flicked a cross-court forehand winner at full-stretch to bring up set point then converted it with an ace.
Ito promptly crumbled to trail 4-1 in the third and Djokovic, chasing a record-extending eighth title at Melbourne Park, marched to victory with a barrage of thumping serves.
He will meet another Japanese player in Yoshihito Nishioka, who knocked out British 30th seed Dan Evans in straight sets, for a place in the fourth round.
“I’m playing all the Japanese players in the field,” Djokovic laughed on court.
“He (Nishioka) is very quick, probably one of the quickest on tour.”
Djokovic thrashed Nishioka 6-1 6-2 in the Davis Cup Finals in Spain in November.
“I know what his strengths and weaknesses are and hopefully I’m able to execute the game plan,” added the Serb.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Tom Hogue/Peter Rutherford)