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1st match winner Novak Djokovic prevails as the 11th Australian Open bid is launched.

In his quest for an 11th Australian Open title, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic faced an unexpected challenge in the first round. He went up against 18-year-old Croatian qualifier Dino Prižmić, the 2023 French Open junior champion, and currently ranked 178th in the world. Despite the young talent’s best efforts, Djokovic emerged victorious in a grueling four-hour battle, securing a 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 win.

This victory marked Djokovic’s 90th triumph in Melbourne, placing him second only to Roger Federer’s 102 victories. The match was watched by former world No. 1 and four-time Australian Open champion Andre Agassi. Despite the challenging encounter, Djokovic displayed sportsmanship by acknowledging Prižmić’s remarkable performance.

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In a post-match interview with Jim Courier, Djokovic praised Prižmić, describing him as an amazing player with impressive maturity for his age. Djokovic acknowledged that Prižmić had the potential to claim the victory, highlighting his resilience and fighting spirit, particularly when he was a break up in the third set.

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Reflecting on the match, Djokovic admitted that Prižmić made him work hard, pushing him to his limits. Djokovic, who entered the tournament with a right wrist issue, expressed his intention to enjoy every moment on the court. Looking ahead, he is set to face either Alexei Popyrin of Australia or Marc Polmans of South Africa in the second round, with the possibility of meeting former world No. 1 Andy Murray in the third round.

The match with Prižmić tested Djokovic’s skills, with the young Croatian challenging him from the baseline and showcasing impressive speed around the court. Despite Djokovic’s routine first set, Prižmić claimed a lead in the tiebreak, eventually winning it. Djokovic emphasized the reality of facing a player with such a well-executed game plan despite the age difference.

The third set saw Prižmić breaking Djokovic for a 3-2 lead, capping an epic game with a forehand into the net. Despite this setback, Djokovic staged an impressive comeback, winning the next four games in a row. The Serb’s emphatic response, including a forehand winner on set point, had the crowd on its feet, emphasizing his mastery over the game.

Heading into the fourth set, Djokovic seemed poised for a swift victory with a 4-0 lead. However, Prižmić, displaying remarkable grit, broke the Serb in the sixth game and held serve to narrow the gap to 4-3. The Croatian’s tenacity kept the contest alive, setting the stage for a gripping conclusion.

Prižmić served at 3-5, and Djokovic’s aggressive play created a 0-40 deficit for the young talent. Despite facing four match points, Prižmić displayed remarkable resilience, saving each one, and closing the gap to 4-5. Djokovic’s two-handed service return into the net gave Prižmić the chance to mount a comeback, showcasing his composure under pressure.

Djokovic, acknowledging Prižmić’s remarkable performance, expressed his admiration for the 18-year-old’s use of the court, defensive skills, and comfort in coming forward. Djokovic recognized the potential for Prižmić to achieve significant milestones in his career.

With Djokovic finally serving it out on his sixth match point, a crosscourt backhand winner sealed the victory. The Serb and Prižmić shared a respectful moment at the net, with Djokovic offering words of encouragement for the young talent’s strong effort. The crowd reciprocated with a standing ovation, acknowledging the thrilling contest.

Reflecting on the tournament ahead, Djokovic emphasized the shared dream of every player to win a Grand Slam. Acknowledging the unpredictability of a 128-player draw, Djokovic highlighted the significance of Grand Slams in the sport, where players aspire to showcase their best tennis.

Djokovic’s 24 Grand Slam titles stand as a testament to his dominance, outstripping the combined count of the other 127 players in the men’s draw. Despite the physical demands of the game, Djokovic, the betting favorite for the title, expressed optimism about finding his best form in the upcoming matches.

The match between Djokovic and Prižmić added another chapter to the Grand Slam’s storied history, embodying the spirit of competition, sportsmanship, and the undeniable thrill of tennis on the grand stage.

This post originally appeared on Forbes

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