In the marque match of the day, Novak Djokovic overcame a nervous, error-filled start to beat Gael Monfils 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 to move into the Australian Open third round.
With temperatures near 100F, Djokovic came out sluggish and after a flurry of double faults, it was Monfils who grabbed an early break and then held on for the opening set.
But just over an hour in, the heat got to the Frenchmen. Monfils motioned to the chair umpire to close the roof, but his request was denied. Despite being a set up, Monfils looked cooked, and he was.
Djokovic, who himself has had his issues in the heat, took care of business and ignored Monfils’ pleas for cover, and rolled to his 15th straight win over Gael.
“It was tough with the tough condition,” Monfils said. “It was really warm. It was tough to breathe. Yeah, I think it was the hardest I have.
“I get super dizzy. I think I have a small heat stroke for 40 minutes. Couldn’t feel like fresh. I try to cool down. But even with the ice towel, the water, I think my body was super warm. Could not, you know, be very fresh after any points, so it was tougher.”
After, Djokovic agreed the heat was tough.
“The conditions were brutal, that’s for sure,” Djokovic said. “We both struggled. Maybe he struggled a bit more, you know, in a period, end of the second set, entire third set. That’s where I think I managed to get on top of him, you know, get even on sets, obviously start off well in the third.
“Here are certain days where you just have to, as a tournament supervisor, recognize that you might need to give players few extra hours until it comes down. I understand there is a factor of tickets. If you don’t play matches, people will be unhappy. You have to take into consideration different angles before making a big call like that.
“But, you know, people might say, Well, at this level you have to be as a professional tennis player fit. It’s the beginning of the season. You kind of work and train hard to be able to sustain these kind of conditions, to be tough.
“But I think there is a limit, and that is a level of I guess tolerance between being fit and being, I think, in danger in terms of health.”
Djokovic will next meet Spaniard Alberto Ramos Vinolas on Saturday.
Dominic Thiem proved he is one of the fittest players on the tour. In the heat, the Austrian came from two sets down to deny American Denis Kudla in five sets 6-7, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.
“Especially in these conditions, the physical fitness is the most important,” Thiem said after his second career 0-2 comeback. “It was 3 hours 50, I think, and almost 40 degrees. It’s very tough. Also, if you are physically fit, you stay mentally fresher, for sure.”
Next for Thiem is Adrian Mannarino, who took down Jiri Vesely. Mannarino’s countrymen Juliean Benneteau and Richard Gasquet also advanced. Benneteau bounced No. 7 seed David Goffin, hanging on in a fourth set tiebreaker.
In good battle of big men, Juan Martin del Potro edged Karin Khachanov 4-6, 7(4)-6, 6-7, 6-4 in a rematch of the Argentine’s win last week in Auckland.
Del Potro, who repeatedly received treatment on his leg, now meets 2-time Australian Open semifinalist Tomas Berdych.
“It was really difficult to play,” del Potro said of the heat. “Almost 40 degrees out there is too much for the health, you know. We did a big effort to play good tennis. The weather condition was too high for playing tennis. Also you can see the crowds, nobody was there watching under the sun.
“But I did a big effort. I survive. I will play after tomorrow I hope in different conditions.”
In the evening, Alexander Zverev rolled past countryman Pete Gojowczyk. Maximillian Materer ousted Fernando Verdasco in 5. And Roger Federer came from a break down in the third to beat Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(4).
But Federer’s countryman and former champion Stan Wawrinka was stunned by Tennys Sandgren 6-2, 6-1, 6-4. Wawrinka, who was playing his first event since summer knee surgery, looked far from his best.
“Match like that I don’t enjoy, that’s for sure,” Wawrinka said. “Never easy to feel that way on the court. But I need to be still positive. I think the last 12 days was more than what I could have dream coming here. I really came without thinking I will be able to play the first match. That’s a big step for me.
“If I look really back, I only had surgery five months ago, five months and three days. To be that far already, it’s more than what we could have expect with my team. For sure, today was extremely tough to feel that way on the court, to lose that way, even if he was playing well.”
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