By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic's aura of invincibility at Rod Laver Arena wavered under the pressure of Frances Tiafoe on Wednesday but the Serbian rose to the challenge to claim a tough 6-3 6-7(3) 7-6(2) 6-3 win and reach the third round of the Australian Open.
The double-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.
"Very tough match," said a relieved Djokovic on court, his voice faint and hoarse from the battle.
"Also difficult conditions. While we had sun on the court it was very, very warm.
"I want to give a hand to Frances again for a great fight. It was a fantastic match.
"If I have to choose obviously I would like to have these kinds of matches in the opening week."
Tiafoe went toe-to-toe with the top seed on a hot and humid afternoon but it all fell apart at 3-3 in the final set when the American grew frustrated by the service clock.
He was docked a serve and then broken after a foul-mouthed tirade at the chair umpire.
He continued grumbling at the change of ends, complaining there was no time to wipe down with a towel and fire down a serve.
Due to social distancing restrictions, players have to pick up their towels rather than have them handed to them by a ballkid.
Tiafoe earned a code violation for an audible obscenity before bowing out with a double-fault on match point.
Djokovic is unbeaten on the Melbourne Park centre court since an injury-hampered fourth round defeat to South Korea's Chung Hyeon in the 2018 tournament.
"When you win a lot on a certain court you feel more comfortable and confident," said the Serb, who is bidding for a record-extending ninth title at Melbourne Park and 18th Grand Slam crown in total.
"It feels right, it feels like my living room here. It's only I'm not sitting on a couch."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)