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'Amazing performance': Djokovic's high praise for teen after reigning champ pushed to record first in AO win

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14th January, 2024
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Fearless teenager Dino Prizmic has given Novak Djokovic – and Australian Open boss Craig Tiley – a fright before the defending champion scrambled to a first-round win.

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, gunning for his 11th Open title.

Watch every Australian Open match ad-free, live & on demand with centre court in 4K Ultra-HD on the home of Grand Slam tennis, Stan Sport.

But 18-year-old 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 after four hours – the longest first-round match of Djokovic’s career.

Already missing injured Spanish giant Rafael Nadal and local crowd-puller Nick Kyrgios, Tiley would have been sweating on the possibility of an early Djokovic exit.

At double his opponent’s age, Djokovic was full of praise for Prizmic, impressed by his maturity in his maiden major.

“Just amazing performance for someone that is 18 years old, had never had an experience of playing on a big stage,” Djokovic said.

“He deserved every applause, every credit that he got tonight, he’s an amazing player, I must say, so mature for his age.

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“He handled himself on the court incredibly well. This is his moment, honestly. He could have easily been his match as well.

“He made me really run for my money for sure.”

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 uncustomary errors.

In the tiebreak, the youngster had four set points with Djokovic saving 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.

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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, which was the longest first-round grand slam match of his storied career.

Djokovic admitted he wasn’t physically at his best, later clarifying in the press conference that he had been unwell.

“I am a bit under the weather, the last four, five days;  you can probably judge by my voice,” he said.

“It is what it is, you just have to try to deal with it and get over it and accept the circumstances and try to make the most of it.”

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Djokovic will have a two-day break to recover with his next opponent an Australian, with Alexei Popyrin and Marc Polmans squaring off in round one.

© AAP

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