Novak Djokovic Defeats Frances Tiafoe in 2021 Australian Open 2nd Round

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2021

Serbia's Novak Djokovic makes a backhand return to United States' Frances Tiafoe during their second round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

Novak Djokovic is one step closer to three-peating at the Australian Open for the second time in his career.

The No. 1 seed in the men's draw defeated Frances Tiafoe in four sets, 6-3, 6-7(3), 7-6(2), 6-3, in Tuesday's second-round matchup of the 2021 Australian Open at Rod Laver Arena.

It was the first career match between the two players, and the two-time defending champion prevailed as expected even though he was thoroughly challenged.

Dan Wolken @DanWolken

He probably won’t win but all respect to Big Foe for sustaining this level of effort for 3 plus hours against Djoker. He hasn’t let go of the rope even one bit.

Both Djokovic and Tiafoe won in straight sets in their first-round matches, but this was a mismatch on paper.

Nobody in history has been better at the Australian Open than the Serb, who entered this year's tournament with a 75-8 career mark and a record eight titles. The 17-time Grand Slam champion won three successive titles in Melbourne in 2011-13 and could be on his way to doing so again following his latest victory.

By comparison, Tiafoe was just 5-4 at the Australian Open entering this year's event. The American did make it to the quarterfinals in 2019 but lost to another marquee player in Rafael Nadal.

Djokovic wasted no time seizing control Tuesday and cruised to a 6-3 win in the opening set behind two breaks. While Tiafoe was able to notch a break as he looked to battle back in the set, he could not take advantage of his opportunities with the serve.

He did not waste his serving opportunities in the second set, though, proving he would not go down without a fight against the champion.

#AusOpen @AustralianOpen

Big Foe rises to the occasion 👀 @FTiafoe takes the second set from World No.1 Novak Djokovic, 7-6(3) to level things up on @RodLaverArena, one set apiece. #AO2021 | #AusOpen https://t.co/t15XH5VUMn

In fact, Tiafoe held serve throughout the set and forced a tiebreak that he won in dominant fashion by taking seven of the 10 points. He outlasted Djokovic on a number of longer rallies and seemed to have more energy than his counterpart as the set progressed.

The theme of the underdog putting up a fight continued into the third set when Tiafoe overcame an early 3-0 deficit following a Djokovic break and forced yet another tiebreak. This time, though, the 33-year-old controlled the extra tennis with his serve and won seven of the nine points to take the set.

#AusOpen @AustralianOpen

.@DjokerNole says no 🙅‍♂️ The World No.1 battles through a tiebreak 7-6(2) to take a two sets to one lead against Frances Tiafoe. #AO2021 | #AusOpen https://t.co/A1p9uKuire

The fourth and final set was largely defined by Tiafoe's frustration with the chair umpire when he lost his first serve for a time violation in the seventh game. That game was Djokovic's first break of the set and allowed him to take control and ultimately win the match.

Still, Tiafoe, 23, deserves plenty of credit for battling against the top player in the world and will likely build on his effort as he looks to move up the rankings and challenge at the remaining Grand Slams in 2021.

Djokovic advanced to the third round and will now face the winner of the match between Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka.