World No1 Novak Djokovic took a significant step towards winning a tournament in the opening week of the season for the first time in eight years when he brushed aside the challenge of Sergiy Stakhovsky.
The Serbian’s 6-2, 6-1 win over the Ukrainian carried him to the quarter-finals of the Qatar Open and enabled him to avoid a potential banana skin, especially in the aftermath of the illness which almost prevented him from competing.
Stakhovsky, who likes to attack the net much more than is fashionable these days, is unusually dangerous when the adrenaline is flowing, and is best known for his upset of Roger Federer at Wimbledon 18 months ago.
Yesterday though there were only brief moments when something akin to that seemed possible – in the seventh game when Stakhovsky earned three break back points and might have pulled the first set back to parity.
But Djokovic played all three of them with excellent focus, and after this mini-crisis was over, he took encouragement and cruised to a win.R
“I have never played here before but I shall definitely be coming back next year,” said the man who is playing in the first week of the tour for only the third time.
“And I’m feeling better.”
That medical news is probably the most important piece of progress for the man who has won the Australian Open four times and is keen to win the title back this month after his shock loss to Stan Wawrinka last year.
After beating Stakhovsky, Djokovic teamed up with Filip Krajinovic to down Robert Farah and Juan Sebastian Cabal to set up a doubles semi-final showdown with Rafael Nadal and Juan Monaco.
“It’s going to be interesting to play against each other in doubles, which is not the common case for us, but I look forward to that,” Djokovic said of his upcoming semi-final doubles date with Nadal.
The Serbian faces serving machine Ivo Karlovic, who has crossed the 9,000 career aces mark this week, in the quarter-finals stage.
When asked about the prospect of being on the receiving end of the Croat’s monster serves today, Djokovic said with a smile: “I’m still to meet a player that enjoys playing him (Karlovic).
“I don’t think that anybody really enjoys it. It’s a big challenge, mentally I think most of all.”
Over in Chennai, top seed Stanislas Wawrinka opened his campaign in the new season with a 6-1, 6-4 demolition of teenager Borna Coric of Croatia to cruise into the quarter-finals.
The Swiss world No4 gave the 18-year-old Coric a tennis masterclass as he began the defence of his title.
Wawrinka showed no signs of rustiness against the 95th-ranked Croatian, the youngest player in the top-100.
“I am really happy to start this way,” said Wawrinka, who will defend his Australian Open title later in the month.
“I played a solid, aggressive match. I made him run around and my backhand worked well. This is a good sign and very satisfying.
“For sure Coric is a good player. He is young and has already made his mark. It was not easy out there.
Last eight berths for Caroline and Venus
Auckland: Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams strolled into the quarter-finals of the Auckland Classic yesterday.
Venus Williams was made to work at the start of her second round match with Japan’s fleet-footed Kurumi Nara, dropping
serve twice before shifting up a gear to cruise home 6-4, 6-1.
The pressure was reversed for top seed Caroline Wozniacki who cruised through the first set against rising American Taylor Townsend and then struggled to get home in two sets 6-1, 7-6 (7-4).
“The second set I broke her and thought it’s going well for me and all of a sudden I see myself down 5-2 and she started playing really well. I had to fight my way back,” Wozniacki said.
Tough season opener for Dimitrov Down Under
Brisbane: Grigor Dimitrov saved two match points as he began 2015 with the narrowest of victories over Jeremy Chardy in Brisbane.
The Bulgarian trailed Chardy 6-4 in a deciding tie-break, but was helped by two double faults from his opponent as he battled to a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (10/8) victory.
His quarter-final opponent, Martin Klizan, saved six match points on his way to a 1-6, 7-6 (8/6), 7-6 (9/7) win over seventh seed
Second seed Kei Nishikori was also tested by America’s Steve Johnson, but came through 6-4, 7-5. In the last eight the Japanese will play Bernard Tomic, who won the battle of the Australians against 18-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis 7-6 (7/2), 6-1.
Women’s second seed Ana Ivanovic made a positive start to her season with a 6-4, 6-1 win over home hope Jarmila Gajdosova.
Brits lose but Murray’s shoulder is on the mend
Perth: Andy Murray says his shoulder felt better in Hopman Cup action yesterday but he still went down, alongside Heather Watson, 1-2 to Poland.
The Polish pairing of Agnieszka Radwanska and Jerzy Janowicz remained unbeaten in the mixed teams tournament by claiming the deciding mixed doubles rubber against Brits Watson and Murray.
Radwanska beat Watson 6-3, 6-1 before Murray levelled the tie with an impressive 6-2, 6-4 win over Janowicz.
Murray had been complaining about a sore left shoulder since Abu Dhabi last weekend.
“My shoulder felt much better today,” Murray said. “As I’m playing the matches it’s starting to feel a little bit better. It’s not
like when I play on it it gets much worse, I do feel much better after a bit of rest and treatment on it.”
Roger Federer looks ahead to the upcoming season as he feeds dolphins in Queensland on Tuesday.
Agnieszka Radwanska and Jerzy Janowicz beat Heather Watson and Andy Murray in straight sets in a Hopman Cup mixed doubles rubber as Poland won their Group B tie against Great Britain 2-1 on Wednesday.