Williams, Djokovic beat the heat


MELBOURNE, Australia -- Among the more menial of their occupational tasks, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic treated their second-round matches at the Australian Open on Wednesday like so much necessary paperwork to be efficiently filed away.

Combined, the prohibitive favorites here are 84-3 in the second round of Grand Slam tournaments: Williams with but one blip in 52 attempts when she lost to Venus here in the sisters' first-ever pro match in 1998, and Djokovic dropping two in 35 chances -- the 2005 French Open and '08 Wimbledon.

Wednesday did nothing to decrease their odds of prevailing here.

It was 105 degrees when Williams left the court after 1 hour, 3 minutes and a tidy 6-1, 6-2 victory over 104th-ranked Vesna Dolonc. It was 107 when Djokovic walked into Rod Laver Arena -- 1 hour, 47 minutes before eliminating 98th-ranked Leonardo Mayer, 6-0, 6-4, 6-4.

Both Williams and Djokovic's missions were clear -- shorten rallies, reduce errors, get off the court as quickly as possible.

"It wasn't the plan, but it just so happened like that," said Williams, who has now lost just six games in exactly two hours and whose strategy always includes talking up the opponent she just vanquished.

"It's tough to go in front of an opponent you don't really know [because] you don't really know what to expect, you don't know what to do. … She was actually a really good player. She hit a lot of deep shots and she was extremely fast. So I definitely saw why she was in the second round."

For Djokovic, considered by many to be the best-conditioned athlete on tour, he has handy motivation from the 2009 Australian Open, his title defense quashed when he was forced to retire from his quarterfinal match with Andy Roddick due to heat exhaustion.

"Obviously as the years go by, I'm more matured as a player, as a person," he said. "I learn new things in life. I develop myself. I physically get stronger … mentally also. All of this plays, of course, an important role when you are playing in such conditions.

"Maybe it looks [easy], but I do go through tough times after long rallies, [like] everybody, trying to get some air obviously. Generally it's much more efficient for me nowadays to recover and to get ready for the next point than it used to be in 2009 when I retired my match against Roddick."

Both Djokovic and Williams stalk history. He's bidding to become just the second man ever to win four consecutive Australian Open titles and five overall; she's hoping to move into a tie with Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert with 18 career Grand Slam titles, which will put the trio behind only Steffi Graf's 22 in the Open Era.

Williams' latest victory was her 24th straight on tour and with it, she tied Margaret Court for most wins at the Australian Open in the Open Era (60).

Djokovic is riding a 26-match win streak and improved his Australian Open record to 40-5, advancing to the third round for the eighth consecutive year.

They were impatient Wednesday, Williams shouting as if in the late stages of a three-set final after ripping a backhand cross-court to pull to 15-all at 6-1, 5-1.

Djokovic, who won the first eight games of the match, shook his head with a sarcastic smile as he pushed a forehand wide by a hair to go to 30-all at 4-0.

"You don't want to spend too much time in the heat," Djokovic said. "You want to try to win as quick as possible. He started to play better as the match progressed … especially in the third set. But I felt like I was serving well and I was in  control. When I needed to use my opportunities when they were presented, I did so."

Djokovic would wrap up the first set in 22 minutes, Williams lagging at 29. And their opponents, like so many early-round victims before them, acted as if they were happy just to be in their presence.

Dolonc, 24, who has earned $790,145 in career prize money and was playing Williams for the first time, smiled and waved to the crowd after failing to equal her best (third round) result in a Grand Slam tournament.

A rousing ovation rewarded Mayer, 26 -- who has earned $1.7 million in singles and doubles and also was bidding for his best Grand Slam result -- when he won his first game at 1-2 in the second set.

Williams, 32, has earned more than $54 million in prize money while Djokovic, 26, has accumulated more than $58 million, including more than $12 million in each of the past three years.

But it is about so much more at this point, of course.

Wednesday, the two tournament favorites were just like everyone else, trying to keep calm and cool in face-melting heat, to slowly build as champions know how to do, toward only one acceptable result.

Neither Williams nor Djokovic are at their peaks, which is scary considering Djokovic had just 11 unforced errors against Mayer and won 82 percent of his first serves and 74 percent of his second with 30 winners, while Williams won 85 percent of her first serves against Dolonc and had 24 winners.

Scarier still is that both feel strongly they have something to prove -- Djokovic trying to regain the aura, if not the actual ranking of the best player in men's tennis; Williams, a five-time champion here playing as if the injuries that hindered her in Melbourne the past two years were a personal insult.

Neither would ever come right out and admit to it, of course, because champions never reveal too much. But asked the best part about being Novak Djokovic, the defending champion divulged far more.

"For me it's important to always know where I come from, be grateful for the life that I have, of course cherish and nurture every moment spent on the court," he said. "Since I was 4 or 5 years old I played this sport, always dreamed of playing on this stage, so I don't take any situation for granted.

"Being aware of all these things is the best of being Novak Djokovic."