Ominous Djokovic brushes Verdasco aside
Novak Djokovic made a statement of intent to the rest of the Australian Open field by seeing off the challenge of dangerman Fernando Verdasco in straight sets on Tuesday.
Djokovic, the six-time and reigning champion who is aiming for a third successive crown at Melbourne Park, weathered a brief storm in the second set to win 6-1 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 on Tuesday
A year on from ousting compatriot Rafael Nadal in a thrilling five-set upset, Verdasco - who had five match points before losing to Djokovic in the semi-final in Doha this month - made a horror start in his attempt to claim an even bigger first-round scalp.
The veteran gave up successive breaks in his first two service games to quickly find himself 5-0 down and staring at the prospect of an embarrassing bagel.
Djokovic's netted attempt to return serve finally saw Verdasco hold and get off the mark, but the Serbian promptly held himself to take the opener 6-1, bringing his opponent to the net, pushing him wide and then guiding an easy winner into an unguarded court.
True to his reputation as one of the sport's most mercurial talents, Verdasco's game fluctuated from the ridiculous to the sublime throughout an entertaining - if frustrating - second set, in which Djokovic was broken twice but broke straight back on each occasion.
Finally discovering some consistency on serve and hitting the lines with big forehands, Verdasco pushed the reigning champion all the way to a tie-break, when his nerve and touch deserted him once again, two successive mini-breaks allowing Djokovic to serve it out and take a stranglehold on the contest.
He carried that momentum into a decisive third, breaking Verdasco again at the first opportunity but showing few frailties this time on his own serve, holding throughout and punishing the wayward 33-year-old on the other side of the net, who was fittingly broken again to lose the match when he sent a forehand long.
Unrivalled movement, nerveless shot-making and tireless defensive work, all the hallmarks of Djokovic's dominance of the men's game, were strangely absent during the second half of 2016.
But in an ominous sign for his would-be challengers, Andy Murray chief among them, the Serbian, fresh from defeating the world number one in the final in Doha earlier this month, appears to be very much back in business.
Djokovic  bt Verdasco 6-1 7-5 (7-4) 6-2
Djokovic - 24/34
Verdasco - 27/56
Djokovic - 2
Verdasco - 5
BREAK POINTS WON
Djokovic - 6/16
FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE
Djokovic - 62
Verdasco - 55
PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE
Djokovic - 76/50
Djokovic - 115
Verdasco - 85