Prior to Novak Djokovic’s arrival back in Melbourne Park for his opening round, fans were asked last week not to boo him after he famously missed last year’s Australian Open following his deportation over his vaccination status, but organisers shouldn’t have worried for the welcome given him on Tuesday was very positive.
Thank you for giving me such a welcome and reception I can only dream of. This is the most special court in my life, Novak Djokovic
And he responded to that warm welcome with a dominant performance to advance past Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain in straight sets.
The nine time Aussie champion won 6-3 6-4 6-0 at round 1.00am Wednesday morning after Andy Murrays marathon clash delayed the evening schedule somewhat!
After the long wait to see Djokovic back in competitive action in the Australian city, the nine-time Melbourne champion made a powerful return, slamming an ace down the T past Carballes Baena on the first point.
After recent hamstring issues, Djokovic arrived on Rod Laver Arena with heavy strapping on his left leg and Carballes Baena tried to move his opponent around the court as much as possible and in doing so, earned himself three break-points on the Serbian serve.
But an unflustered Djokovic saved the points to hold serve, before going on to secure the first break of the match in the next game.
The duo served up frequent long rallies in the first set, with both deploying explosive forehand shots, but Djokovic’s power proved too much for his Spanish opponent and took 12 successive points to go 5-2.
While his his opponent held his next serve, Djokovic proceeded to take the first by serving out to love.
Any fears in the Djokovic camp over his fitness were quickly forgotten as with the scores level at 3-3 in the second, he came out on top after a rally of 28 breath-taking shots.
This may well have affected Carballes Baena, because despite him serving up two aces straight after this, Djokovic proceeded to make the first break of the second set. Play then stayed with serve and the Serbian took a two-set lead.
Coming out for the third, Djokovic shifted through the gears at a rapid rate, moved quickly into a 3-0 lead and powered his way into the second round, bageling Carballes Baenain in 24-minues.
On being asked why he performed so well in Australia, he responded: “The more you win on a certain court, the more comfortable and confident you feel every next time you step on it. If I have to choose one court and conditions it would be night session on the Rod Laver Arena all night long.”
More importantly he revealed: “The leg is good. It’s not ideal but it’s getting there. Today was a really good test.
“At the beginning I was a bit tight, I would say, mentally as well, to protect something that was bothering me last 10 days. So it took me a little bit of time to really get into the match and start moving more freely. The great sign was that the longer the match went, the better I felt, the better I moved.”
He concluded by thanking the crowd for his warm welcome.
“Thank you for giving me such a welcome and reception I can only dream of. This is the most special court in my life,” he said.
In other action Alex De Minaur, the highest ranked Aussie in draw, came through a two hour, 6-2 6-2 6-3 demolition of Yu Hsiou Hsu from Chinese Taipei.
“Every day in my life I just want to get better. I am feeling better than last year and hopefully I can reach a little further and will give it 100 per cent,” De Minaur said.
Norway’s number two seed Casper Ruud, another late starter and playing on Margaret Court Arena, finally won through his first-round match at 1.15am 6-3 7-6(6) 5-7(5) 6-3.
And Germany’s Alexander Zverev battled his way past Juan Pablo Varillas of Peru 4-6 6-1 5-7 7-6(3) 6-4.