Australian Open logoAustralian Open

Novak Djokovic's Keys to Victory vs. Lukas Lacko in 1st Round of Australian Open

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 08:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia hits a forehand during a practice session ahead of the 2014 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 8, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Michael Dodge/Getty Images
Patrick ClarkeCorrespondent IJanuary 9, 2014

Three-time defending Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic will begin his pursuit of a fourth consecutive title Down Under against world No. 90 Lukas Lacko in the first round of the Happy Slam. 

The men's No. 2 seed has done everything right in Melbourne since 2011, winning 21 straight singles matches at the Australian Open and knocking off elite competition in the process. However, with the pressure mounting and a rejuvenated Rafael Nadal re-entering the mix, Djokovic will have his work cut out for him if he's to become the first man in the Open era to win a fifth Aussie Open. 

With the draw set and the first round of play set to begin on Jan. 13, let's highlight the biggest keys for Djokovic in his opening matchup against the underdog Lacko.

 

Stay Focused

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 27:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia serves in his men's final match against Andy Murray of Great Britain during day fourteen of the 2013 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 27, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Jul
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Considering Djokovic has won three straight titles and 21 straight singles matches at the Australian Open, it's safe to say that the biggest key to success in Round 1 will be how he approaches the match from a mental standpoint.

With Djokovic already having made history in Melbourne, staying focused, specifically taking the tournament one match at a time, will be crucial for the defending champion against Lacko.

Given the disparity in talent, preparation and physical ability, it's impossible to envision Lacko beating a locked-in and focused Djokovic in a best-of-five-set match. 

The addition of tennis legend Boris Becker to Djokovic's team could certainly help in this department, per The Guardian's Kevin Mitchell: "I sincerely hope that he can bring that mental edge because he recognizes the situations that a top player is facing during the grand slams and the pressures and expectations and the clutch moments."

 

Break Early 

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 08:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia hits a backhand during a practice session ahead of the 2014 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 8, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Michael Dodge/Getty Images

It's no secret that Djokovic is the best returner in men's tennis and a nightmare to serve against on the bouncy hard courts at Melbourne Park. Therefore, the defending champion will want to create and maximize on early break-point chances against Lacko.

As with any lopsided matchup, the quicker Djokovic can get ahead in the opening set, the quicker he can break his opponent's spirit and make for smooth sailing. 

If Lacko is able to string together a few successful service games in a row, his confidence will only grow. And considering the 26-year-old Slovak has nothing to lose, any bit of belief could be dangerous. 

 

Come to the Net

While Djokovic has the fitness level and shot-making ability to outduel Lacko from the baseline, don't expect him to play passively from the back. 

Sure, both players will take some time getting a feel for the match through the first few games. But once Djokovic gets comfortable, watch for him to make his way to the net more frequently. His volley, anticipation and overall touch at the net have improved tremendously over the years, and all three were on display in his straight-sets victory over Rafael Nadal at the ATP World Tour Finals back in November. 

Expect Djokovic to pick and choose his spots wisely, though, in order to avoid becoming too predictable.

With Djokovic employing total concentration, making every one of Lacko's service games stressful and applying pressure at the net and shortening points, he's sure to cruise into the second round.

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

Follow _Pat_Clarke on Twitter

Where can I comment?

Stay on your game

Latest news, insights, and forecasts on your teams across leagues.

Choose Teams
Get it on the App StoreGet it on Google Play

Real-time news for your teams right on your mobile device.

Download
Copyright © 2017 Bleacher Report, Inc. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BleacherReport.com is part of Bleacher Report – Turner Sports Network, part of the Turner Sports and Entertainment Network. Certain photos copyright © 2017 Getty Images. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of Getty Images is strictly prohibited. AdChoices