Novak Djokovic has been made to fight tooth and nail to get past the first round at the 2024 Australian Open after 18-year-old Croatian qualifier Dino Prižmić gave the him an almighty scare.
The inexorable Djokovic prevailed in the end, but Prižmić gave the 10-time champion — and Australian Open director Craig Tiley — more than a few nervous moments in the four-hour, four-set epic.
Djokovic’s match on Rod Laver Arena on Sunday night, with the tournament start brought forward a day, was supposed to be a stroll for the super Serb, who is gunning for his 11th Open title.
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But teenage qualifier Prizmic, playing in his first ever grand slam, didn’t read the script and had the world No.1 in trouble before he managed a 6-2 6-7 (7-5) 6-3 6-4 victory just before midnight.
Already missing injured Spanish giant Rafael Nadal and local crowd-puller Nick Kyrgios from the tournament, Tiley would have been sweating on the possibility of an early exit for Djokovic, who was stunned, but ultimately not beaten.
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Djokovic himself must have had his doubts for at least a fleeting moment or two during what was the longest first-round match of his career in majors, and he was full of praise for the teenager after the clash.
“He handled himself on the courtincredibly well,” the Serb said after the match.
“This is his moment, honestly. It could have easily been his match as well.
Novak Djokovic was too good again but the teenager ran him close. Credit: Julian Finney/Getty Images
“He was a break up in the third. He fought, even though he was 4-0 down and a break point down from 5-0, he fought, he showed great mentality, resilience.
“He made me really run for my money for sure, tonight. That’s for sure. And honestly, I have many, many praises for him; many compliments.
“I will be talking about it later in the press conference probably, to deconstruct his game. I love the way he’s using every inch of the court. He’s comfortable to come in, he’s defending incredibly well. Just amazing performance for someone that is 18 years old, had never had an experience of playing on a big stage.
“Big kudos to him and his team, to his family. And I certainly want to be in his corner, so hopefully he will invite me, because he is going to make some big things in his career — that’s for sure. We are going to see a lot of him in the future.”
At one stage during the fourth set, the Rod Laver Arena crowd were even chanting Prižmić’s name: ‘Dino, Dino, Dino’ — which John McEnroe found slightly amusing, considering they had probably only just learned it.
“At 7pm, 95 per cent of this crowd didn’t know what his first name was,” the American tennis great said on commentary.
“Shows what he’s brought to the table, though. Got to hand it to him.”
Defending champion Novak Djokovic had to work for his win over teenage qualifier Dino Prizmic. Credit: AAP
The first set went to plan, with only a medical time-out for the Croatian world No.178 for treatment on his thigh stalling the march of the top seed.
But Djokovic, who made his grand slam debut nearly seven months before Prizmic was born, was rattled in the second, making a raft of uncharacteristic errors.
In the tiebreak, the youngster had four set points, of which Djokovic saved three, before sending a ball wide for Prizmic to level at a set apiece.
The pair traded breaks in the third but, at 3-3, the 36-year-old, who battled a wrist injury leading into the tournament, started to assert his dominance.
Playing his first competitive match since his United Cup quarter-final loss to Alex de Minaur, which was his first defeat in Australia since 2018, Djokovic won the next seven straight games.
Down two breaks at 0-4, Prizmic refused to go away and broke the 24-time grand slam champion and then consolidated to give himself a sniff.
He saved five match points before a steely Djokovic wrapped up the win.