* Djokovic impressed by American Smyczek
* Serb smashes Russian Kuznetsov (Writes through with quotes)
By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic praised American Tim Smyczek’s act of sportsmanship in his second round marathon against Rafa Nadal as “greater than sport itself” at the Australian Open on Thursday.
Qualifier Smyczek lost the five-setter against a sickly Nadal at Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday but won admirers for allowing the Spaniard to repeat a first serve when serving for the match at 30-0 in the fifth set.
Nadal had served up a fault after a spectator had yelled out during his ball toss, but made the most of his second chance with a serve that Smyczek returned into the net, bringing three match-points.
Smyczek’s gesture was warmly applauded by Nadal and Djokovic made it clear how impressed he was after destroying Russian Andrey Kuznetsov 6-0 6-1 6-4 to reach the third round on Thursday.
“I’ve seen actually the great gentleman gesture and sportsmanship from Smyczek in the last game,” Djokovic told reporters at Melbourne Park.
”I think that’s something that people should talk about.
”This is something that is not very common in the sport today, you know, where media and people generally emphasize on the rivalries, feisty, aggressive kind of approach to matches.
“It’s nice to have something that is greater than sport itself, you know, the sportsmanship and fair play.”
Djokovic’s campaign for a record fifth Australian Open title in the professional era shifted up a gear on Thursday, as he conducted a one-hour 24-minute masterclass on Rod Laver Arena against 88th-ranked Kuznetsov.
The first set lasted only 21 minutes with the hapless Kuznetsov later declaring he would get a video of the match to try to emulate the near-perfect performance by his opponent.
“First two sets definitely have been great,” said Djokovic, who will play Japan’s Go Soeda or Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in the next round.
”Overall I executed the game plan. Everything I intended to do, almost 100 percent, from every second in my game, serve, baseline play, aggressive shots and aggressive returns.
“He dropped his first-serve percentage a lot in the second set and obviously allowed me to have a lot of looks at the second serves. That, as well, gave me an opportunity to step in and just swing through the ball.” (Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Patrick Johnston/Amlan Chakraborty)