Even when a forehand from Novak Djokovic went wide to give 18-year-old Grand Slam debutant Dino Prizmic the second set after a thrilling tiebreak and square proceedings at one-set all against the 24-time Major champion, the result of the match was never in doubt. Djokovic went on to win the next two sets and thus his 2024 Australian Open opener 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4. But Prizmic threw down the gauntlet and went toe-to-toe with his idol, increasingly as the match went on.
If you are Novak Djokovic, you can say that ‘nothing comes easy’ at a Grand Slam, as we have heard the likes of the Serbian, and Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer say multiple times over their illustrious careers to let off a bit of the pressure, and understandably so. However, we have seen many talented players crumbling under the pressure of playing some of these all-time greats, resulting in easy straight-set wins for them in early rounds of Grand Slams. Not Dino Prizmic though.
Dino Prizmic makes big statement on Grand Slam main-draw debut
The early stages of the match saw Prizmic understandably feeling the nerves of the occasion, with Djokovic breaking his serve early and Prizmic also being hindered by an injury on his left thigh, which was heavily taped for the rest of the match. While the injury might have been a result of nerves more than anything else, that and the dominant figure of Djokovic looming on the other side of the net meant that things were only going to get tougher for the 18-year-old as he lost the first set 2-6. Prizmic did not succumb to the pressure, stood up to the challenge, and quite amazingly, matched Djokovic in the longer rallies.
By the end of the third set, where Prizmic again left Djokovic stunned by his level of tennis despite losing the set, Prizmic had won 31 of the rallies that included more than 9 shots to Djokovic’s 21. That says a lot, given the 10-time Australian Open champion’s supremacy in longer rallies through his career, let alone against a Grand Slam main draw debutant. There was no doubt that Djokovic was not at his absolute best, but the way the match went along, it was Prizmic’s maturity, tennis acumen, and fearlessness at such a young age that made it such an enthralling contest.
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Even towards the end, when Djokovic had three match points at 5-3, 0-40 on Prizmic’s serve, the youngster simply refused to give in, saved four match points, and forced Djokovic to serve out the contest after four hours on the court, the longest first-round Grand Slam match of Djokovic’s career. It is difficult to remember the last time an opponent so inexperienced at the highest level and so young in their tennis career made Djokovic toil this hard at his most successful Grand Slam tournament.
Djokovic’s massive celebratory roar after winning the third set showed just how much of a challenge he faced from Prizmic.
So from where has this talented tennis player burst onto the scene?
Prizmic was born in Split, Croatia, the home of former Wimbledon champion and Djokovic’s current coach, Goran Ivanisevic. While there is not much yet to sing high praises about, Prizmic did win the French Open boy’s singles title in 2023, dropping just the solitary set in six matches enroute to the title, showing his ability on clay to go along with his exploits against Djokovic on the hardcourts of Melbourne Park where the Serbian has dominated so much. After the Roland Garros win, Prizmic won his maiden ATP Challenger Tour title in Banja Luka last year, courtesy of which he broke into the ATP top-200. He ended the 2023 season with his first two top-100 wins.
Prizmic’s 2024 Australian Open journey was not all about his battle against Djokovic. The current singles world no. 178 earned the right to play the main draw opener with a stellar performance in qualifying, dropping just one set in three matches.
What’s next for the Croatian youngster?
This is not the first time that an early rounds match at a Grand Slam main draw has introduced us to a very promising talent, only for them to then not be able to live up to expectations. The sudden eyeballs on them and the pressure of expectations often hinders such players. This is just the start of Prizmic’s career and we may not want to get too ahead of ourselves while also not putting too much early pressure on a still budding talent, but Prizmic’s performance against a certain Novak Djokovic made it clear that the Croatian youngster is a player to look out for going forward, with his shot-making ability and his physical as well as mental capabilities on the court. And if Prizmic does go on to make it big, this first-round Grand Slam contest will be remembered as a crucial moment.
For now, an encouraging post-match exchange at the net between the two players and a standing ovation for Prizmic from his idol Djokovic and a packed crowd on Rod Laver Arena was the fruit of his great debut effort.