MELBOURNE - A cagey Novak Djokovic was unwilling to spell out how he's been steeling himself to repeat his Australian Open heroics of the past two years, but yesterday's first-round performance delivered its own message.
The Serbian world No.1, seeking his fourth Open title and to become the first man to win three straight in Melbourne in the professional era, stretched his winning streak to 15 with an impressive 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 victory over Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu.
The 102-minute match was more than four hours short of Djokovic's last appearance at Rod Laver Arena, when he outlasted Rafael Nadal in last year's epic final.
While the Serb showed typically outstanding mobility and shot-making when needed, he felt there was room to improve.
"It's expected in the first match you're still not being 100 per cent," he said.
Djokovic, whose only previous tennis this year was in the low-pressure atmosphere of the Hopman Cup, brushed aside questions about what he has been doing physically to prepare for more gruelling matches to come.
"I can't give you too many details because I like to keep these things private and confidential," he said.
The 25-year-old admitted he and his support staff had been gathering information on his main rivals.
"We are trying to be as informed as possible about everybody, you know, especially about their game," Djokovic said.
The Serb will meet young American hope Ryan Harrison in the second round after the 20-year-old beat Colombian Santiago Giraldo 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 yesterday.
Other men's winners yesterday included Czech fifth seed Tomas Berdych, who powered past 34-year-old American Michael Russell 6-3, 7-5, 6-3. Russell has now suffered 22 first-round losses at a major in 27 attempts.
Spanish 22nd seed Fernando Verdasco, who lost an opening round five-setter to Australia's Bernard Tomic last year, survived a tough clash with another youngster, Belgian 22-year-old David Goffin, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Japan's Kei Nishikori, the 16th seed, beat Romanian Victor Hanescu 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.
Swiss 15th seed Stanislas Wawrinka outclassed German qualifier Cedrik-Marcel Stebe 6-2, 6-4, 6-3.
Spaniard Nicolas Almagro, the 10th seed, fought off American qualifier Steve Johnson 7-5, 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 6-7 (6-8), 6-2.