MELBOURNE, Jan 21, 2010 (AFP) - Former champion Novak Djokovic believes he can only improve after overcoming an early stumble to get past dogged Marco Chiudinelli to reach the third round of the Australian Open on Thursday.
The Serbian third seed needed four sets and almost three hours to wear down the world number 58 Swiss, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 as the heat cranked up on Rod Laver Arena.
|Djokovic hits a return against Marco Dhiudinelli of Switzerland in their men's singles second round match on day four of the Australian Open in Melbourne on January 21, 2010. AFP photo|
He dropped the opening set but eventually dominated Chiudinelli to set up a third round encounter with Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin.
Djokovic has painful memories of his ill-fated Australian Open title defence last year when he retired during his quarter-final with Andy Roddick through cramping and heat fatigue.
He was wary of the potential pitfalls in the early rounds and was at odds with himself in the opening set as he struggled to find rhythm and form.
"There are some things that I obviously have to improve in order to play better," Djokovic said.
"But the opening rounds, especially at Australian Open, are tricky and where a lot of surprises happen.
"You're playing against the players who really have nothing to lose and have played a more matches than you.
"I kind of feel that little pressure. This is what I felt a little today."
Djokovic was off his game in the opening set, conceding two service breaks and hitting double the number of unforced errors of Chiudinelli.
"I was frustrated, especially at start of the match, because he was really giving it to me," he said.
"He was very aggressive and stepping in and using ever opportunity that has been given to him.
"I automatically just became too defensive and didn't really make too much. Just waiting for his mistakes."
Djokovic said he made the transition to being offensive and gradually took control, breaking the Swiss twice in the second, four times in the third and in the eighth game of the final set.
"I try not to put too much pressure on myself. I try to take one match at a time," he said.
"I really had some bad experiences last year. Unfortunately it finished the way I did.
"So I'm just trying to focus on my own matches and put in the best possible effort. I believe that I can even play better."
It was an erratic performance from the 2008 Australian Open champion, offering 17 break point opportunities on his servce and committing 52 unforced errors.
Chiudinelli, making only his fourth Grand Slam appearance, dropped serve in six consecutive games during the second and third sets and needed constant running repairs on a troublesome right ankle.
Djokovic looked affected by the heat and resorted to an ice pack draped around his neck during changeovers late in the match.
Djokovic's quarter of the draw has opened up following the first round elimination of French Open finalist and eighth seed Robin Soderling and the highest-ranked seed left in his section is Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
He beat Tsonga in the 2008 Australian Open final for his first career Grand Slam title.