By Greg Baum
January 26, 2020 — 7.27pm
Diego Schwartzman’s physical reality when measured up against Novak Djokovic is everyone else’s metaphorical: he comes up short.
Novak Djokovic (Serbian: Новак Ђоковић, romanized: Novak Đoković, pronounced [nôʋaːk dʑôːkoʋitɕ] (listen); born 22 May 1987) is a Serbian professional tennis player who is currently ranked world No. 2 in men’s singles tennis by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).Djokovic has won 16 Grand Slam singles titles, five ATP Finals titles, 34 ATP Tour Masters 1000 titles, 13 ATP Tour 500 titles, and has held the No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings for 275 weeks. In majors, he has won a record seven Australian Open titles, five Wimbledon titles, three US Open titles, and one French Open title. By winning the 2016 French Open, he became the eighth player in history to achieve the Career Grand Slam and the third man to hold all four major titles at once, the first since Rod Laver in 1969 and the first ever to do so on three different surfaces. He is the only male player to have won all nine of the Masters 1000 tournaments.. Djokovic was also a member of Serbia’s winning Davis Cup team in 2010 and in the 2020 ATP Cup.
Djokovic is the first Serbian player to be ranked No. 1 by the ATP and the first male player representing Serbia to win a Grand Slam singles title. He is a six-time ITF World Champion and a five-time ATP year-end No. 1 ranked player. Djokovic has won numerous awards, including the Laureus World Sports Award for Sportsman of the Year (four times) and the 2011 BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year award. He is also a recipient of the Order of St. Sava, the Order of Karađorđe’s Star, and the Order of the Republika Srpska.
Open and shut case for Djokovic in week one at Melbourne Park
Melbourne ( (listen) MEL-bərn) is the capital and most populous city of the Australian state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia and Oceania. Its name refers to an urban agglomeration of 9,993 km2 (3,858 sq mi), comprising a metropolitan area with 31 municipalities, and is also the common name for its city centre. The city occupies much of the coastline of Port Phillip bay and spreads into the hinterlands towards the Dandenong and Macedon ranges, Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley. It has a population of 5 million (19% of the population of Australia), and its inhabitants are referred to as “Melburnians”.The city was founded on 30 August 1835, in the then-British colony of New South Wales, by free settlers from the colony of Van Diemen’s Land (modern-day Tasmania). It was incorporated as a Crown settlement in 1837, and named Melbourne by Governor General Richard Bourke on 10 April 1837 in honour of the British Prime Minister, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne. In 1851, four years after Queen Victoria declared it a city, Melbourne became the capital of the new colony of Victoria. In the wake of the 1850s Victorian gold rush, the city entered a lengthy boom period that, by the late 1880s, had transformed it into one of the world’s largest and wealthiest metropolises. After the federation of Australia in 1901, it served as interim seat of government of the new nation until Canberra became the permanent capital in 1927. Today, it is a leading financial centre in the Asia-Pacific region and ranks 15th in the Global Financial Centres Index.The city is home to many of the best-known cultural institutions in the nation, such as the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the National Gallery of Victoria and the World Heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building. It is also the birthplace of Australian impressionism, Australian rules football, the Australian film and television industries and Australian contemporary dance. More recently, it has been recognised as a UNESCO City of Literature and a global centre for street art, live music and theatre. It is the host city of annual international events such as the Australian Grand Prix, the Australian Open and the Melbourne Cup, and has also hosted the 1956 Summer Olympics and the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Due to it rating highly in entertainment, tourism and sport, as well as education, health care, research and development, the EIU currently ranks it the second most liveable city in the world, and it was ranked as the world’s most liveable city for seven years in a row, from 2011 until 2017.The main airport serving the city is Melbourne Airport (also referred to as Tullamarine Airport), which is the second busiest in Australia, and Australia’s busiest seaport the Port of Melbourne. Its main metropolitan rail terminus is Flinders Street station and its main regional rail and road coach terminus is Southern Cross station. It also has the most extensive freeway network in Australia and the largest urban tram network in the world.
For Djokovic at the Australian Open, the first week is for taking care of business. At Rod Laver arena on Sunday, the Argentine Schwartzman became the latest item ticked off on Djokovic’s to-do list.
In four rounds, he has not faced a player who has beaten him previously. Nor has his next opponent, Canada’s Milos Raonic, bested him in nine previous encounters. But Djokovic knows the order will grow taller from here. That is the second week’s business.
Open and shut case for Djokovic in week one at Melbourne Park
At 170cm, Schwartzman is the most diminutive player on the circuit. It’s his forever certainty; he rejoices in the nickname El Peque, Shorty. “I’m not going to wake up one day the size of Karlovic or Isner,” he says. Besides, height is not everything: he is named after Maradona.
Stature restricts Schwartzman most obviously on serve. On average, Djokovic’s second serve was as fast as Schwartzman’s first this day. He hit one ace. He compensates with speed around the court and a touch that prompted Djokovic at one point on Sunday to reach the net and touch congratulatory hands with him after making an ankle-high backhand half-volley into a winner. That was about as close as they got.
Schwartzman is 27, a 10-year tour veteran, who two years ago peaked at world No 11 – higher than Nick Kyrgios or Bernard Tomic ever have been, for instance – and was playing here as the 14th seed. But he has never beaten a top 5 player, anywhere. So is men’s tennis stratified.
For Djokovic, at this tournament, in this form, he was roadkill. Humane roadkill, but dead and kicked aside none the less. One point in the first set exemplified all. Stretching across the baseline, Schwartzman drew a gasp from the crowd as he struck a gorgeous backhand passing shot, only for gasp to strangle in all throats and be replaced by another and more wondrous exclamation as Djokovic turned Schwartzman’s apparent winner into a backhand cross-court winner of his own. This one counted.
At times, Schwartzman played more spectacular tennis. At least he will take home a highlights package worth watching. Meantime, Djokovic kept hitting targets as they appeared on the other side of the net, short and long, left and right, like a clay pigeon shooter. There is too much grace about his way to call it clinical, but the effect is of a clinic.
That said, he can conjure and twirl with the best of them. One lunging forehand return of serve bypassed the net post to become a winner. Schwartzman could only sit on his haunches and shake his head.
When young, Djokovic once said he felt he was playing two opponents here, the other player and the crowd. In a way, it’s still two: the other player, and his own exacting standards. His likeliest outburst these days would be in self-recrimination. Having broken Schwartzman’s back, he appeared to spend a couple of games experimenting with a more up-tempo way of playing, as if readying himself for the challenges to come. He marked himself down marginally for not finishing the match sooner.
Djokovic’s tournament is at an ominous pass. “It feels great,” he said. “I had a fantastic couple of matches in a row, centre court, last two rounds. I felt more confident going through the ball, hitting serves really well.”
Immediately, the scale of the mission grows, in all senses. Raonic is 196cm and best known for his serve. On Margaret Court arena on Sunday, he crashed down 35 aces, which accounted for all of the margin of his straight sets victory over former US Open winner Maron Cilic with five games worth to spare. One clocked 225kmh and should have been booked.
“It’s going to be different,” said Djokovic. “He’s one of the tallest players out there, and strongest physically, and on the biggest serves. I’ve got to be ready for missiles coming from his side of the net.” Raonic understands that he will have to re-arm. “I’m going to have to serve more than 35 aces,” he said.
It’s all the big boys from now on.
Greg Baum is chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age.