Game recognises game and on Sunday night at the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic was quick to pay his compliments to teenage tennis sensation Dino Prizmic. A 10-time champion at Melbourne Park, neither Djokovic nor fans who packed inside Rod Laver Arena would have expected the level of tennis that the 18-year-old Croatian qualifier served up, despite eventually losing 6-2 6-7 (7-5) 6-3 6-4 to Djokovic in what was the Serb's longest ever first-round match at a slam.
Playing in the first ever major in what is already shaping up to be a promising career, Prizmic was not overawed by the occasion and frequently took the battle to a man considered by many to be the greatest of all time. After losing the first set and having strapping put on to a leg issue, Prizmic grew into the contest and instantly into the affections of tennis fans around the world.
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The teenager levelled the match at one set each after taking the second in a tiebreak against Djokovic, which is no mean feat in itself. He had chances to go further ahead in the third stanza too after claiming an early break against the Serb but the undeniable class of the Melbourne Park king ultimately shone through, as Djokovic turned the screws.
Even when it looked like Djokovic would run away with the match after jumping out to a 4-0 lead but Prizmic refused to give up and even managed to break the Serb a couple more times himself, before the 10-time champ prevailed in a four-hour thriller. The crowd inside Rod Laver Arena had been treated to a superb spectacle and Djokovic made sure most of the applause was directed at his teenage opponent.
Fans hail Novak Djokovic after gesture for beaten rival
The Serb held his racquet up to offer his own applause to Prizmic, before helping to whip the crowd up into a frenzy and give the young Croatian a rousing send-off. Fans flooded social media after the match to praise Djokovic for the classy gesture and congratulate the young Croatian on an epic first grand slam match.
— Jimmy Sideras (@jimmy_sid1) January 14, 2024
— Bastien Fachan (@BastienFachan) January 14, 2024
— Sarath (@sarath_xyz) January 14, 2024
No one applauds his opponents like Novak Djokovic does. A true sportsman to the core. pic.twitter.com/eSRx0nOp1F
— Novak Army - Sekhar Talluri (@bestevr24) January 14, 2024
What a fantastic guy, our Novak 🤩 Applauds his opponent, asked him to stand up & take the applause 👏 What a warm handshake at the net & many encouraging words for Dino, who gave Novak a real match!#NovakSportsmanship
2 days rest now for Novak 🙏🏻#NoleFam #djokovic𓃵 #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/mCZtiZHiP9
— NovakDjokovicUKFan-Linda🐊🦋🐺 2️⃣4️⃣ #djokovic𓃵 (@DjokovicUk) January 14, 2024
Djokovic can have very controversial behavior on court, but he has never missed respect to his opponent once the match is over, I must say.
— EllenOntour (@ewsdn) January 14, 2024
So heart warming to see this kind of respect between Novak Djokovic & Dino Prizmic ❤️
18 year old Prizmic played his 1st Grand Slam against his idol on a very high level. He not only impressed @DjokerNole but all of us too 👏#Djokovic #AusOpen #NoleFampic.twitter.com/jdYoEbocOa
— Shane Gupta (@Shanegupta22) January 14, 2024
Novak Djokovic full of praise for Croatian teen
“I mean, he deserved every applause, every credit that he got tonight. He’s amazing player, I must say, so mature for his age,” Djokovic beamed in his on-court interview after the match. “He handled himself on the court incredibly well. This is his moment, honestly. He could have easily been his match as well.
"He was a break up in the third. He fought even though he was 4-0 down and a break point down from 5-0, he fought, he showed great mentality, resilience. He made me really run for my money for sure, tonight. That’s for sure. And honestly I have many, many praises for him."
The longest first-round grand slam match Djokovic had previously featured in was at the 2005 US Open - the same year Prizmic was born. Djokovic seemed taken aback after the match when the reality dawned on him that the Croatian was half his age, but in one of the greatest compliments he could give the youngster, the Serb said it felt like he was playing a prototype of himself and predicted big things from him in the future.
“I hear a lot of positive stories about his discipline, his dedication to everyday routines that are making him so physically strong already at 18 and successful. If he continues this way, he's going to have a very bright career ahead of him, no doubt," Djokovic added.
“I played one loose game in the second set. Handed him the break. I rebroke, but I could feel he's starting to feel more comfortable, he's not missing as much. There were some gruelling rallies, very physical games. Almost four hours for four sets. It felt at some point I was playing myself in a mirror already."
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