Novak Djokovic has begun his bid for a record-equalling sixth Australian Open crown by handing the most improved player on the planet a stark lesson in how much better he still needs to get before he can really match it with the tennis elite.
The peerless Serb – who was only denied a calendar grand slam last year by a French Open final loss to Stan Wawrinka – made short work of South Korean teenager Hyeon Chung on Monday in a 6-3 6-2 6-4 victory.
Chung was voted the most improved player on tour by his peers in 2015 after his year-end ranking skyrocketed from 173 to 51.
“Undoubtedly I had the best season of my life in 2015,” said Djokovic.
“It’s been a remarkable season.
“I enjoyed it very much.
“I did not lose many matches and tried to stay healthy.”
Chung is one of only four teenagers currently ranked in the men’s top 100 – a group which also includes Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Djokovic is gunning to equal Australian great Roy Emerson’s record of six Australian Open men’s crowns.
“Having to play someone for the first time, especially someone that is as young as him, as he’s only 19, it can be tricky,” said Djokovic.
“It’s about getting on the court and playing against a player who has nothing to lose.
” … He’s one of the players that people are talking about as a potential top player in the future.
“He’s got that potential – no doubt about it.”
Djokovic’s second-round opponent will be another highly-rated young gun on the rise, Frenchman Quentin Halys.
Halys, a 19-year-old wildcard ranked No.187 in the world, continued to turn heads in a 6-4 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 7-5 win over Croatian veteran Ivan Dodig on Monday.
Top-eight seeds Kei Nishikori and Tomas Berdych also made short work of their opening-round opponents on a hot day one at Melbourne Park.
Japanese star Nishikori powered past Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4 6-3 6-3 to set up a second-round clash with long-time friend and training partner Austin Krajicek from the United States.
Berdych, the No.6 seed who has reached the semis at the past two Australian Opens, dispatched Indian Yuki Bhambri 7-5 6-1 6-2 with a minimum of fuss.
The seventh-seeded Nishikori also has a good recent record at Melbourne Park, having advanced to at least the last 16 in each of the past four years.
“It was hot but luckily I got finished quickly,” said Nishikori.
“It’s very dry here so actually I didn’t sweat much.
“But it’s important – especially if you want to play two weeks here.
“I think I’m going to play a lot in the daytime so I hope I can finish quick in every match.”
It was the first time in 11 appearances at the Australian Open that the 32-year-old Kohlschreiber had been beaten in the opening round.
Nishikori’s second-round opponent is the 25-year-old Krajicek, who made short work of Chinese qualifier Wu Di, winning 6-4 6-1 6-3 in only his third appearance at a major.
No.12 seed Marin Cilic from Croatia overcame a slow start to down Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 6-2 6-4.
Big-serving Croat Ivo Karlovic was the first seeded casualty, the No.22 seed retiring from his first-round match against Argentine Federico Delbonis while trailing 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 2-1.