(Reuters) – Eleven years after their first meeting in the Australian Open final, Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will take a trip down memory lane on Thursday to renew their rivalry in the second round in Melbourne.
Djokovic went on to win that memorable match in 2008 for the first of his 14 Grand Slam trophies, while Tsonga has struggled to convert his early potential into titles on the biggest stage, having never reached a Grand Slam final since.
While inconsistency has dogged Tsonga throughout his career, knee surgery forced the former world number five out of action for seven months last year to leave him outside the top 200 for the first time since 2007.
Tsonga, who has clawed his way back to 177 in the world, needed a wildcard to enter the season’s first major and powered past Slovakia’s Martin Klizan 6-4 6-4 7-6(5) in the first round to set up the meeting with Djokovic.
“It’s funny, I mean, 11 years after our first Grand Slam final here, it feels like a lot has happened for both of us,” Djokovic, who had elbow surgery last year before returning to claim the last two Grand Slams, said.
“He also struggled with injuries lately. It’s good to see him playing well. It’s good to see him back.”
The Serb, who beat qualifier Mitchell Krueger 6-3 6-2 6-2 to advance, is aware of the lurking threat Tsonga poses having lost to the Frenchman six times in 22 career meetings.
“I know what to expect… I lost to him… in Rod Laver I think back in 2010,” six-times Australian Open champion Djokovic added. “I’m going to approach it as any other match. Optimistic, but also respectful, trying to do whatever I can to win it.”
In the women’s draw, Serena Williams will look to continue her charge towards a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam when she faces Eugenie Bouchard in the second round, while top-ranked Simona Halep takes on unseeded American Sofia Kenin.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)