Novak Djokovic propped up his left shoe on a courtside sign so he could stretch out his bothersome hamstring. He grimaced while flexing the muscle after one point, hopped on his right leg to keep weight off the left after another. He took a medical timeout while a trainer re-taped him during the second set — which Djokovic would go on to drop.
As if he needed another distraction, Djokovic was flustered enough by a heckler that he asked chair umpire Fergus Murphy to have the spectator removed from Rod Laver Arena, saying: “The guy’s drunk out of his mind. … He’s been provoking. He just wants to get in my head.”
As Djokovic summed up: “It was a lot happening tonight.”
Here’s what did not happen Thursday evening at the Australian Open: Djokovic did not lose his way entirely and, most importantly, he did not lose in the second round, which is what happened to both No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal and No. 2 seed Casper Ruud.
Seeking a 10th trophy at Melbourne Park, to add to his own record, and a 22nd Grand Slam title overall, to equal Nadal’s, Djokovic put everything aside and beat 191st-ranked French qualifier Enzo Couacaud 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-0. It was Djokovic’s 23rd consecutive win at the Australian Open, a streak that paused a year ago when he couldn’t play in the tournament because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19.
This did not shape up as a contest of much intrigue, given that the fourth-seeded Djokovic has done all that he has done, while Couacaud entered with a career mark of 2-5. And whatever Couacaud’s chances were beforehand seemed to dim just four games in, when he turned his right ankle and required a visit from a trainer.
But Couacaud overcame that and played freely, conjuring some terrific shotmaking and even having some fun, celebrating his claim of the second set by pointing to the court as if to indicate, “This is my house!”
Which, of course, it is not. The place belongs to Djokovic, who will play Grigor Dimitrov next, knowing that two highly ranked contenders are no longer possible obstacles.