Melbourne | Its comeback day
It was a day of two important comebacks from injury as well as one of disappointment for the host nation who watched three of their nationals depart from the Melbourne field.
I'm proud to be back already, Honestly, to win today, it means a lot to me Stan Wawrinka
The Australian Open’s second day’s schedule featured the return of Novak Djokovic, seeded 14, making his long-awaited comeback to the ATP Tour after six months off with an elbow injury. The Serb, a six-time champion of Australia, sailed through his first match since his Wimbledon quarter-final loss, beat Donald Young of the US comfortably 6-1 6-2 6-4 on the main arena but required five match points before sealing the win.
He showed no signs of pain or fluidity as he stroked his way to a comfortable victory to meet Gael Monfils who in turn progressed past Spanish qualifier Jaume Munar 6-3 7-6(5) 6-4.
There was also a successful return from Stan Wawrinka following his knee operation after Wimbledon and hasn’t played since then. He also lost his coach in October and is now travelling without one.
The 2014 champion did struggle at times but held on to beat Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis 6-3 6-4 2-6 7-6(2) for his first win in six months and while his knee seemingly held up, his serve was misfiring at times and he did look to be physically spent towards the end of the match. Nonetheless he rallied sufficiently to dominate the tie-break to win a second-round meeting.
“I’m proud to be back already,” he said after his match. “Honestly, to win today, it means a lot to me.”
Meanwhile, the Australian challenge which, 24-hours earlier had started so well, fizzled out with the removal of Alex De Minaur, the 18-year-old who impressed so much over the past few weeks, as well as Thanasi Kokkinakis and Jordan Thompson.
De Minaur, runner-up at Sydney last week, arrived on Hirense Court to a hero’s welcome and he would need their support as he took on the 19th seed, Tomas Berdych.
The teenager’s fighting spirit was very evident and Berdych certainly had his hands full in the opening two sets until the young Aussies reserves seemingly dried out.
The experienced Czech took full advantage and as his serve finally reached full power, he drove to the finishing line to secure a place in round two, 6-3 3-6 6-0 6-1. The 32-year-old will meet Guillermo Garcia-Lopez who also recorded his first win of the season when he beat an in-form Benoit Paire 6-0 6-7(4) 6-1 6-4.
Earlier Kokkinakis, who required several breaks for a shoulder injury and heat exhaustion, fell at the hands of Daniil Medvedev, who as a qualifier, had won Sydney last week at the expense of De Minaur. It was a close run thing but the Russian eventually pulled through 6-2 6-7(6) 7-6(8) 6-4.
He was joined by Thompson who hung on for three-hours and 42-minutes before going down to Nicolas Kicker of Argentina, the world No.96 making his debut in Melbourne, 6-3 6-1 4-6 3-6 6-3.
Alexander Zverev is still fighting to find consistency in his game but prevailed to claim a 6-1 7-6(5) 7-5 victory over Italian Thomas Fabbiano. The German 20-year-old, world ranked 4, who won five titles and beat Roger Federer last year, but has yet to get past the fourth round at a grand slam He is also aware of his status as the leader of the Next Generation.
“I think last year I was pretty consistent, apart from the end of the year,” Zverev said.
“I think my game is getting more consistent with age as well. I think that’s also something that is a factor of maturity.
“So I’m just trying to get better every single day, and that’s what I’m here for.”
Zverev admittted he had been expecting a tough scrap with the Italian. “That’s what he does. That’s what he’s known for on tour, to be competitive, to fight for every single point, play well from the baseline.”.
“He’s like a Diego Schwartzman-type of player. They are always not easy to beat, especially in first rounds.
“I was a bit surprised with his serve and how well he was serving. But apart from that, I was looking forward to a tough match.”
He faces next fellow German Peter Gojowczyk who beat Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3 6-3 6-1 and could face his brother Mischa in round three.
In contrast, the defending champion Roger Federer made lightwork of Aljaz Bedene who has reverted to playing for Slovenia, the country of his birth, rather than his adopted one of Britain. The Swiss world No2 is chasing his sixth Australian title and if successful, will raise his tally of grand slam trophies to 20! His 6-3 6-4 6-3 victory over the Slovenian required just 99-minutes to set him on his way.
Responding to a question posed by John McEnroe, Federer said: “I think my dream was always to play for a long time on tour. I didn’t expect myself to play this well and come back here as the defending champion, but I’ll take it.”
Fernando Verdsaco also had satisfactory opening round as he dismissed his Spanish compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut 6-1 7-5 7-5. In the second round he will compete with German Maximilian Marterer, who also defeated his compatriot Cedrik-Marcel Stebe 6-0 6-3 6-4.
Also through is Dominic Thiem who got the better of Guido Pella 6-4 6-4 6-4 as he opens his challenge to win his first grand slam title.
The Austrian saved six break points during the two-hour, 16-minute encounter and will now face Denis Kudla in the second round after the American defeated compatriot Steve Johnson 6-7(5) 6-3 7-6(3) 6-2.
He is joined in the next round by Richard Gasquet who took out Blaz Kavcic 6-1 6-4 7-5.
However Canadian Milso Raonic, a member of the comeback group, was stunned by unseeded Lukas Lacko of Slovakia 6-7(5) 7-5 6-4 7-6(4).