Australian Open: Novak Djokovic drops rare set and battling Venus Williams bows out in painful encounter
World No 1 Novak Djokovic was made to look human for a few games by Frances Tiafoe overnight, and even dropped a set – a rarity for him in these early rounds of the Australian Open. In the last four years of major tennis, this was only the sixth set Djokovic had dropped in 28 appearances before reaching the third round – which is the first time a seeded player can meet another seed. It was a hot and humid night in Melbourne – conditions that Djokovic tends not to enjoy – and the often flashy Tiafoe kept up an unexpected level of accuracy. In the second set of Djokovic’s 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 victory, Tiafoe delivered excellent statistics of 17 winners as against only 11 unforced errors. At 23 years old, the American has been a top-30 player before, and reached the quarter-finals of this event in 2019, but his ranking has dropped back to No 64 after a loss of focus last year. “He pushed me to the very limit I think,” said Djokovic, after regrouping to earn a third-round meeting with another young American, 27th seed Taylor Fritz. “Second and the third set were really super close. But just overall challenging conditions. I think it was very hot. We had long exchanges. His backhand was very solid, very consistent, not too many errors. “Of course, I was at times not feeling my timing as well as I normally am. Credit to him. I think he has managed to come out with a great performance and quality of tennis. He put me in a difficult spot.” Djokovic must have been grateful for the extra insurance of the best-of-five-set format. On the women’s side, there is always more volatility, and three former slam champions were eliminated overnight. The most unusual case surrounded Venus Williams, the five-time Wimbledon champion, who is still forging on at the age of 40. Williams came into her match against Italy’s Sara Errani with heavy strapping on her knee, which appeared to inhibit her movement, and was then reduced to hobbling after turning her ankle late in the first set. Measuring Venus Williams’ ongoing career only in context of her age would do a disservice to her sustained quality Unusually, Williams was forced to claim back-to-back medical time-outs on the two separate injuries. She teared up at one point as the pain became too much, but refused to walk off the court, fighting on instead to the end of her 6-1, 6-0 defeat. It was a hugely courageous display from a woman who has stoically combined elite sport with an auto-immune condition – Sjogren’s Syndrome – for at least a decade now. Venus’s sister Serena was unruffled by her second-round opponent Nina Stojanovic, cruising through by a 6-3, 6-0 margin, but there were defeats for the 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu – who is returning to the sport after a 467-day absence caused by a serious knee injury – and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. Andreescu was up against the uniquely awkward Su-Wei Hsieh of Taiwan, who sliced and diced her way to a 6-3, 6-2 victory. Kvitova, meanwhile, took on Romania’s Sorana Cirstea, one of the 72 players who wound up serving a 14-day hard quarantine because of a positive Covid test on their flight into Melbourne. After her 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 upset win, Cirstea explained that last year’s breaks in the tennis calendar had reminded her “how much I love tennis and competing. I was grateful to play when I came back, played with much more joy, understanding that there are much more important things in life”.