Melbourne: Six-time champion Novak Djokovic emerged from the Rod Laver Arena furnace and into the third round of the Australian Open after putting suffering Gael Monfils out of his misery with a scrappy victory on Thursday.
Both men struggled physically as air temperatures peaked at 39.9 degrees Celsius with reports of 69 degrees being measured down on the court surface.
But 12-times grand slam champion Djokovic, playing his first tournament for six months because of an elbow problem, was the more durable as he recovered from a woeful start to claim a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 win and take his record over Monfils to 15-0.
The 14th seeded Serb will play Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the third round.
“It was brutal,” Djokovic who wore a compression sleeve and employed a truncated service action, said.
”I thought, it is going to be a big challenge for both of us. Gael is one of the best athletes in our sport.
“It was about just hanging in there.”
Monfils looked in danger of keeling over from the middle of the second set and throughout the third -- pleading with the match umpire to give them more than 25 seconds between points.
“I was dying on the court for 40 minutes,” the 31-year-old told reporters later after having revived in a cold tub.
”It was really warm. It was tough to breathe. I think it was the hardest (conditions) I have played in.
“I tried to cool down. But even with the ice towel, the water, I think my body was super warm.”
Djokovic was rumoured to have requested to play his match in the middle of the afternoon, despite the predicted heatwave.
Unhindered Halep dashes past Bouchard
Top seed Simona Halep eased fears over her fitness with a brisk 6-2, 6-2 victory over Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard to reach the third round.
The Romanian world number one sprained her ankle in her first round match at Melbourne Park on Tuesday but showed no sign of restricted movement in a 65-minute romp on Margaret Court Arena.
Marching around the court like she meant nothing but business, Halep broke Bouchard seven of the eight times the Canadian served to set up a third round meeting with American Lauren Davies.
Bouchard, who beat Halep in the 2014 Wimbledon semi-finals, had her moments but made 26 unforced errors, conceding defeat with the last of them after Halep had fired down a huge forehand which she could only balloon wide of the court.
Injured Del Potro battles through
Former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro battled an apparent thigh injury and sapping heat to down Russia’s Karen Khachanov 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-7(0), 6-4 and reach the third round.
The 12th seeded Argentine had a medical timeout in the fourth set and continued to have treatment on his thigh during a change of ends but stayed on his legs to close out the taxing three hour 45-minute tussle at a sweltering Hisense Arena.
Del Potro, famous for toppling Roger Federer in the 2009 final at Flushing Meadows, was thrilled to advance, having missed the last three tournaments in Melbourne due to a string of injuries.
“I didn’t expect to play this kind of match, I prefer to watch on TV,” joked the 29-year-old, a twice quarter-finalist in Melbourne, during his post-match interview on court.
”I‘m so happy to be playing in Melbourne after many years.
“I had pain everywhere but I‘m still standing up.”
Young gun Zverev tested but moves to third round
Alexander Zverev endured a mid-match lapse but steadied to defeat Peter Gojowcyzk 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 in an all-Germany battle and reach the third round.
With the thermometer peaking at a stifling 40 degrees Celsius (104 F), the 20-year-old fourth seed was grateful for the relative cool of the evening and looked set for an early night as he raced through the opening two sets under the lights at Hisense Arena.
That was until 62nd-ranked Gojowczyk rallied to break Zverev in the third game of the third set and held the advantage bravely to make a game of the contest.
Chastened, Zverev knuckled down to deny his opponent a look at his serve in the final stanza and sealed the match with an ace to set up a next generation clash with South Korean talent Chung Hyeon.
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Updated Date: Jan 18, 2018 17:10:43 IST