MELBOURNE—How does a Boris Becker-coached Novak Djokovic play tennis? So far, an awful lot like the Novak Djokovic we’ve been seeing for the last five years or so. Djokovic’s first match with the German in his corner, a 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-1 win over Lukas Lacko in Rod Laver Arena, was as routine as you would expect for a man who has won this tournament the last three years.
From the start, Djokovic did what he always does, playing with tightly controlled aggression and giving his opponent few options. The Serb had just one hiccup, when he was broken in the middle of the first set, but he broke back immediately. And once he had the second-set tiebreaker under his belt, he relaxed completely in the third. Lacko, steady but underpowered, was able to rally with Djokovic, but he couldn’t hurt him. Djokovic finished with 40 winners against 30 unforced errors, and he had his serve popping to the tune of 10 aces.
It was enough to make you wonder if he had hired Becker just to mix things up and keep himself from being bored. Djokovic does everything so well, and seemingly with so little risk, that his matches can look like the tennis version of a sleeper hold on his opponents—you don't notice much happening, until suddenly he's up two sets and a break. Maybe Djokovic just wants to liven things up. We’ll see; for today, he didn’t need to attack the net or leave his comfort zone any more than normal; he won eight of nine points up there, and spent most of his time happily patrolling the baseline and giving his shots plenty of margin. Becker, who leaned forward and rarely cracked a smile in the player’s box, presumably approved.
Match No. 2 of the Novak and Boris show will be against the harder-hitting Leonardo Mayer two days from now. Whatever the score is that day, it should be hot enough to make them sweat a little more.