Six-times champion Novak Djokovic survived the Rod Laver Arena furnace to reach the third round of the Australian Open, with a 4-6 6-3 6-1 6-3 victory over Gael Monfils on Thursday.
With temperatures peaking at 39.9 degrees Celsius and reports of 69 degrees being measured on the court surface, Djokovic recovered from a woeful start to take his record over the unseeded Frenchman to 15-0.
Djokovic, playing his first tournament for six months because of an elbow problem, dropped his opening two service games.
Although he battled back to break Monfils twice he wavered again as scrappy opener went his opponents’ way.
After a 24-stroke rally in the sixth game of the second set it was clear Monfils was struggling to cope with the heat.
He repeatedly asked the umpire for more than the allowed 25 seconds recovery time between points.
Both players hung iced towels around their necks at changeovers and Monfils, who leaned on his racket at times, seemingly to remain standing, needed the doctor, telling the umpire that he was dizzy and feeling sick.
“I was dying on the court for 40 minutes,” Monfils told reporters later after having cooled down in a cold tub.
Djokovic rattled through the third set and it looked as though Monfils would quit, but to his credit he recovered his senses to offer some stern resistance in the fourth.
Fourteenth seed Djokovic broke in the eighth game though, but failed to convert his first match point and then faced a break point after losing a rally that left him gasping for air.
Monfils saved two more match points, the second with a superb cross court forehand, but Djokovic converted at the fourth attempt with a simple volley.
“It was brutal,“ Djokovic, who again played with a compression sleeve and employed a truncated service action, said on court.
“I thought, it is going to be a big challenge for both of us. Gael is one of the best athletes in our sport.
“It was about just hanging in there and try to use every opportunity.”
The 30-year-old Serb will play Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the third round. (Reuters/NAN)