By Sudipto Ganguly
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Champion Novak Djokovic put on an impeccable serving display against Japanese Yoshihito Nishioka to canter to a 6-3 6-2 6-2 win in the third round of the Australian Open on Friday, staying on course for a record-extending eighth title at Melbourne Park.
The Serb, who defeated another Japanese in Tatsuma Ito in his previous round, smashed 17 aces, won 93% points on his first serve and faced just a single breakpoint against the hapless Nishioka in the match that lasted only an hour and 25 minutes.
Considered widely as the best returner of first serves and baseline player among contemporaries, Friday’s match at the Rod Laver Arena showed that Djokovic was also right up there with the best servers in the game.
In astonishing statistics, the second seed lost just a single point on serve in the first two sets and eight overall against the 24-year-old Nishioka.
“Definitely one of the best serving matches I’ve had lately, inspired by my coach Goran Ivanisevic,” Djokovic said.
“There are a lot of technical details you can talk about, but sometimes less is more. It’s all about the rhythm and balance … So far, it’s been working really well.”
Djokovic, who beat Rafa Nadal in last year’s final to win a record seventh Australian Open title, broke his left-handed opponent’s serve once in the first set, twice each in the next two, and hit 40 winners.
The victory on Friday was the 21st straight win for Djokovic at Grand Slams against left-handed players since the 32-year-old Serb lost to Nadal in the 2014 Roland Garros final.
In ominous signs for the other title contenders in the second week at Melbourne Park, Djokovic said there was still room for improvement for him.
“You can always improve. I think that’s the beauty of the sport,” he said. “I think in terms of service rhythm that I have at the moment, winning percentage from the first serves is really high.
“So that’s probably as best as my serve can actually be in the moment, which I’m very pleased with. It allows me to go quicker through my games and win more dominantly my service games and put additional pressure on the service games of my opponents.
“That’s definitely something that’s useful going towards the second week of the Grand Slam. I love playing on the court. I like the conditions. I’m starting to feel very, very comfortable and compact on the court. I’m going to try to keep that going.”
Djokovic will next meet Argentine Diego Schwartzman, who beat Serb Dusan Lajovic 6-2 6-3 7-6(7) earlier on Friday, an opponent the world number two termed as “one of the quickest players on Tour”.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by Sam Holmes and Muralikumar Anantharaman)