Djokovic faultless in Australian Open return (VIDEO)
Novak Djokovic couldn’t have wished for a better performance in his return to the Rod Laver Arena as he eased past past Roberto Carballes Baena to qualify for the second round of the Australian Open.
The Serb, who was infamously deported from Australia ahead of the Grand Slam event last year amid a Covid vaccination row with immigration authorities down under, thanked fans for an incredibly warm welcome after his three-set (6-3, 6-4, 6-0) win against the world’s 75th ranked player.
Djokovic, who has been battling a hamstring injury and had heavy strapping on his upper left leg, appeared on the court to a raucous reception from a capacity crowd at Melbourne Park but didn't appear to suffer any setbacks as he eased past the Spaniard after a little over two hours of action.
“I couldn’t ask for a better start to the tournament,” the 35-year-old announced afterwards.
“Thank you for giving me such a welcoming reception that I could only dream of. I feel really happy that I'm back here in Australia and on the court where I have had the biggest success in my career.
“Definitely this court is the most special court in my life.”
The performance extends Djokovic’s remarkable sequence of wins at the Australian Open – where he is a nine-time champion – to 35, a run which dates back to 2018.
Another win at the first of four Grand Slam events this year would see Djokovic tie Rafael Nadal's all-time record of 22 Grand Slam wins.
He will play either Hugo Dellien of Bolivia or France’s Enzo Couacaud in his second-round match on Thursday.
67 - Novak Djokovic is now 67-2 in Grand Slam First Rounds: he only lost in the opening Round in a Major to Marat Safin at the Australian Open 2005 and Paul Goldstein at the AO 2006. Astonishing.@atptour | #AusOpen2023#AusOpenpic.twitter.com/EyqhTvX4B1— OptaAce (@OptaAce) January 17, 2023
88 - Novak #Djokovic has won his last 88 Grand Slam matches when he won the opening set (incl. retirements) - the last time he lost such a match was at the US Open final in 2016 against Stan Wawrinka (6-7 6-4 7-5 6-3). Launch.#AusOpen#AustralianOpenpic.twitter.com/s7oYh56t0F— OptaAce (@OptaAce) January 17, 2023
Elsewhere on Tuesday, there were wins for Andrey Rublev, while Germany’s Alexander Zverev won his first singles match after suffering a serious knee injury last year, when he came out on top in a five-set thriller with Juan Pablo Varillas.
“I am extremely happy because I missed this over the past seven months,” Zverev said after his victory.
“This match alone pays off for all the hard work and suffering that I have had. To win in front of this kind of crowd again… I can’t wait for the rest of the tournament. No matter what happens from now, the tournament is already a success for me.”