A Sweet Sixteenth: Djokovic Crushes Harrison to Extend Melbourne Streak

Somewhat like Bernard Tomic looking ahead to his projected third-round meeting with Federer, Ryan Harrison approached his second-round match against world #1 Novak Djokovic in confident mood.  His swagger quickly dissolved, though, under the ferocious hail of groundstrokes that the two-time defending champion unleashed upon him.  Harrison fell to 0-16 against top-10 foes following this resounding 6-1 6-2 6-3 defeat, which could serve as much of a valuable lesson to him moving forward as it did a demonstration of Djokovic’s multifaceted talents.

The first set was essentially stillborn as Harrison double-faulted away a break at love in his first service game and won only one point in the first three games overall.  Known for his volatile emotions, the youngster looked too overeager at the beginning to unleash his offense, which played into the hands of Djokovic’s sturdy baseline counterpunching.  Although he held serve in the fourth game, Harrison made no impact on the rest of the first set as he failed to break through the Serb’s defenses, even attempting a desperate serve-volley gambit.  Losing hardly any points on his own serve, Djokovic collected an insurance break when the American netted a tepid attempt at a backhand slice.  One routine service hold later, the set belonged to the top seed.

Quickly trailing by a break in the second set as well, Harrison needed a 137-mph ace to find his way onto the scoreboard and avoid an embarrassing 6-1 3-0 deficit within barely half an hour.  Free from any fear, Djokovic appeared to relish displaying his prowess on both offense and defense to the Rod Laver audience.  A sprawling retrieval from his forehand corner drew an embarrassingly botched smash to end one point, and Harrison darted helplessly around the baseline to track down a smorgasbord of forehand blasts in another.  Without that ace, the Serb might well have crammed a bagel down his feisty challenger’s throat.  His bark proven much worse than his bite, Harrison slumped to a double-break deficit again.

In a characteristic display of perfectionism, Djokovic slumped in apparent dejection when he failed to break Harrison one more time for the first set.  Moments later, however, it lay in his ledger with a 6-2 scoreline only slightly less imposing than the breadstick that had started the match.  On the final point of the second set, he stretched well wide of the doubles alley on his forehand, pursuing a quality cross-court forehand from Harrison that skidded off the sideline.  Seemingly out of options, Djokovic planted himself at full extension and ripped a forehand at an unanswerable angle, a perfect illustration of his mastery over even the most difficult strokes tonight.

The clock finally struck the one-hour mark with Djokovic leading by two sets and 2-1 in the third.  In the previous game, he had launched a return missile that landed precisely on the baseline as Harrison watched speechless.  The American had entertained the Melbourne audience before then by sprinting across the entire length of the baseline in futile pursuit of a forehand and then leaping over one of the advertising placards next to the court.  Somewhat more encouraging for Harrison was the quality of his serving near the end, when no suspense whatsoever remained in the match.  The youngster valiantly held his serve for 3-4 following a long game filled with punishing groundstrokes from Djokovic—a game that proved the highlight of his night.

Shortly afterwards, Djokovic collected his 16th straight victory in Melbourne, the scene of his greatest achievements.  As emphatic as any of the other victories for the leading men here, this match delivered a formidable statement towards those who would bar his path to a historic Australian Open trilogy.