Dubai: Novak Djokovic’s aura of invincibility at Rod Laver Arena wavered under the pressure of Frances Tiafoe but the Serbian rose to the challenge to claim a galvanising 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 win and reach the third round of the Australian Open.
The defending champion has rarely been tested so early at his favourite Grand Slam but he had his hands full against American Tiafoe, whose sparkling tennis revived memories of his exhilarating run to the 2019 quarter-finals.
"I was impressed with the way he was competing. He served very well, he fought hard," said Djokovic. "I thought we both played on a pretty high level. I mean, he pushed me to the very limit.
"Just overall challenging conditions," he added. "It was very hot, we had long exchanges. It was a tough match, and I'm really glad to overcome such a battle."
He will play another American, Taylor Fritz, in the third round after he battled past Reilly Opelka in five sets.
Tiafoe went toe-to-toe with the top seed but it all fell apart in the seventh game of the final set when the American grew frustrated by the service clock and was broken after a foul-mouthed tirade.
Tiafoe also earned a code violation for an audible obscenity before bowing out with a double fault on match point.