MELBOURNE, Australia — All these years later, although with much less on the line, Novak Djokovic again got the better of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Australian Open.
The No. 1-seeded Djokovic beat Tsonga 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in the second round at Melbourne Park in a rematch of their 2008 final. This one started Thursday night and wrapped up after 12:30 a.m. on Friday.
“Certainly you could feel tension on the court from the beginning. I think we were both going through a lot of emotions,” Djokovic said during an on-court interview.
Asked to elaborate on that sentiment at his news conference, Djokovic said: “Knowing the history … I had with him, I guess that’s what brought even more … weight on this encounter tonight. I did feel a bit more nervy than I usually do.”
Eleven years ago, Djokovic’s victory over Tsonga gave the Serb the first of his 14 Grand Slam titles, a total that is tied with Pete Sampras for third most by a man, trailing only Roger Federer’s 20 and Rafael Nadal’s 17.
Djokovic is back at No. 1 in the ATP rankings and has won the past two major championships, at Wimbledon in July and the U.S. Open in September, after dropping out of the top 20 last season following surgery to repair his right elbow.
He was asked whether he was surprised to return to the top of the game.
“Not really, but, I mean, I have to be honest. I always believe in myself and I think that’s an emotion that is always dominant,” Djokovic said. “But on the other hand, I am pleasantly surprised with how quickly I got (back) to No. 1.”
Tsonga, meanwhile, has never made it back to a major final.
The 33-year-old Frenchman needed a wild-card entry to get into this year’s field in Australia because his ranking is only 177th. He missed most of last season after having surgery on his left knee in April.
“It’s always tough playing with Jo,” Djokovic said. “Ranking doesn’t do justice to him at the moment. He’s always been a top player.”
As he pursues a men’s-record seventh Australian Open title – Federer also is bidding for that number in Melbourne – Djokovic will face 25th-seeded Denis Shapovalov for a spot in the fourth round.
Shapovalov, a 19-year-old left-hander from Canada, beat Taro Daniel 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3 on Thursday.
“Lots of respect for him, especially for his professionalism … at such a young age,” Djokovic said about Shapovalov. “He’s mature mentally.”
Shapovalov, who described facing Djokovic at a major tournament as “a dream come true to me,” is one of 10 men under age 23 into the third round, the most at the Australian Open since there were 11 in 2004.