Hot competition: Novak Djokovic uses an iced towel in an attempt to cool down. At one point the court surface temperature was measured at 69°C. Picture: REUTERS
Hot competition: Novak Djokovic uses an iced towel in an attempt to cool down. At one point the court surface temperature was measured at 69°C. Picture: REUTERS

Melbourne — Six-time 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°C and reports of 69°C being measured on the court surface, Djokovic recovered from a woeful start to take his record over the unseeded Frenchman to 15-0.

Later defending champion Roger Federer coolly swept into the third round, beating Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4 6-4 7-6 (7/4), avoiding the worst of the furnace-like conditions during his night match.

"I practise with him, so I had the information I needed," Federer said, adding that the heat did not bother him. "If you want to get to the top, you’ve got to play in all conditions."

It was never going to be easy for the German. While Federer had made at least the third round each year since his Melbourne Park debut in 2000, Struff had failed to go further than the second round at any Grand Slam.

Gael Monfils pours cold water over himself. Picture: REUTERS
Gael Monfils pours cold water over himself. Picture: REUTERS

Djokovic, playing his first tournament for six months due to an elbow problem, dropped his opening two service games, and although he battled back to break Monfils twice, he wavered again as the scrappy opener went his opponent’s way.

After a 24-stroke rally in the sixth game of the second set, it was clear Monfils was struggling 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 leant on his racquet at times, seemingly to remain standing, needed the doctor, telling the umpire he was 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 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 volley.

"It was brutal," Djokovic 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 now play Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the third round.

Third seed Garbine Muguruza and 2014 winner Stan Wawrinka both wilted and were knocked out.

Maria Sharapova, in contrast, laid down her title credentials with a dominant win against 14th seed Anastasija Sevastova.

World No1 Simona Halep was also convincing in her straight demolition of Canadian Eugenie Bouchard.

The heat took its toll on a host of players, including Wimbledon champion Muguruza, who suffered with heat-blistered feet.

She was knocked out by Hsieh Su-wei from Taiwan 7-6 (7/1) 6-4 but refused to make excuses. "I maybe could have done things better, but at the end, she deserves to win."

Wawrinka also failed to progress and was defeated by American Tennys Sandgren.

Russia’s Sharapova was on Rod Laver Arena early and avoided the brunt of the weather as she showed why she should be taken seriously in dismantling Sevastova 6-1 7-6 (7/4).

It was the Latvian who ended her Grand Slam comeback in the last 16 of the US Open in 2017 as she returned from a drug ban. But not this time.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner, was unstoppable in racing through the first set before a battle in the second.

"It was a warm day. I did my job in two sets against someone that’s been troubling in the past for me," she said.

Next up is 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, who beat Donna Vekic in two easy sets.

Eighth seed Caroline Garcia also stayed in the title hunt, but found it hard going against Czech teen Marketa Vondrousova.

Reuters, AFP

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