AO 2024 – Day 1: Djokovic pushed to the limit

Reigning champions Novak Djokovic and Aryna Sabalenka started with contrasting victories on Day 1.

Novak Djokovic / 1er tour Open d'Australie 2024©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

The Happy Slam launched into action with a memorable opening day at Melbourne Park.

The Australian Open welcomed the reigning singles champions onto court as well as a plethora of upcoming youngsters and contenders giving it their all.

Here are the key headlines from Down Under…

Defending champions quell qualifiers 

Novak Djokovic was made to "run for my money" in a gripping clash with 18-year-old Dino Prizmic.

The 10-time champion had never lost a Grand Slam match to a player ranked as low as the world No.178 Croatian, however, the top seed was given an almighty scare on Rod Laver Arena.

After four hours the world No.1 eventually posted 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 to chalk up his 90th singles win at the Australian Open.

"I started off very well for 36-year-old guy, but jeez when you think about it, I'm double his age," quipped the relieved top seed

"I'm really trying to enjoy every moment on the court. Obviously, I struggled in many, many different moments tonight. But you know, it was credit to him due to his incredible game plan, he just had an answer for everything."

Prizmic, the Roland-Garros 2023 boys' singles champion, dazzled on his Grand Slam debut with firecracker groundstrokes doing the damage to level in a top-drawer tie-break and then claimed a gruelling 17-minute game to break for a 3-2 lead in the third set. Even down 0-4 in the fourth set, the youngster kept probing for a route back.

The defending champion found the right shots at the right time to escape, before leading the standing ovation for this teenage sensation.

"He deserves every applause, every credit that he got tonight. He's amazing player, I must say so mature for his age. This is his moment, honestly. I mean, it could have easily been his match," stated 24-time major winner Djokovic, who takes on an Australian charge next in the shape of Alexei Popyrin or Marc Polmans.

"He showed great mentality. Resilience. He made me really run for my money, that's for sure!"

It was a much more comfortable evening for 2023 champion Aryna Sabalenka. The No.2 seed was ruthless with 20 winners in 53 minutes, proving too strong, too dominant, too experienced for 6-0, 6-1 versus German qualifier Ella Seidel.

"I'm super happy to be back in Melbourne. Yeah last time I had incredible memories from here, unforgettable memory so to say and it just feels so great," said Sabalenka.

"I still need to work for my dream. So, it's really amazing that I was able to achieve so many goals in tennis and there's many more to come. I'm working really hard to achieve all my goals and I'm just I'm just really grateful for everything I have in life, for every opportunity."

Aryna Sabalenka / 1er tour Open d'Australie 2024©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

First day thrillers

Around the grounds at Melbourne Park a collection of players had to dig deep to go the distance to earn their second-round ticket.

No.5 seed Andrey Rublev roared in relief as he closed out a pulsating 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6[10-6] triumph over Brazilian Thiago Seyboth Wild.

Similarly, No.12 seed Taylor Fritz had to claim the final two sets to edge past world No.93 Facundo Diaz Acosta. Argentina's Francisco Cerundolo and Australian Christopher O'Connell claimed marathon five-set wins, along with world No.89 Daniel Elahi Galan's five-hour 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(3), 4-6, 7-6 [10-8] rollercoaster with home hope Jason Kubler.

Over to the women's draw and Roland-Garros 2021 champion Barbora Krejcikova overcame wild card Mai Hontama 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.

More qualifiers also made a name for themselves on this sizzling Sunday. Brenda Fruhvirtova posted her first Grand Slam victory with a 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 scoreline with Ana Bogdan. The 16-year-old's reward is a second round blockbuster with world No.2 Sabalenka.

Another qualifier Alina Korneeva, girls' champion in Melbourne and Roland-Garros last season, produced a head-turning 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 win facing world No.52 Sara Sorribes Tormo.

Smooth sailing for Sinner and co

No.4 seed Jannik Sinner, competing for the first time since leading Italy to Davis Cup glory in November, evaded trouble with a 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 scoreboard over the net from Botic van de Zandschulp.

Frances Tiafoe wrestled away the initiative in four sets to hurdle the challenge from Borna Coric.

Former finalist Marin Cilic is re-building following knee surgery, but couldn't quite conjure up enough to dismiss world No.65 Fabian Marozsan during their four-set battle.

No.8 seed Maria Sakkari relinquished just five games to Japan's Nao Hibino, whilst 2018 champion Caroline Wozniacki and Leylah Fernandez also advanced in straight sets.

Roland-Garros 2019 semi-finalist Amanda Anisimova, on the major stage following a seven-month hiatus to recover from burnout, impressed with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over No.13 seed Liudmila Samsonova.

Click here to find out all the results from the first day of the 2024 Australian Open.

Flying the French flag

World No.76 Diane Parry reached the second round for the first time by outmanoeuvring No.30 seed Wang Xinyu 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.

Quentin Halys also boosted French hopes, stealing away two tie-breaks in a four-set triumph facing South African Lloyd Harris.