The big story Tuesday on the men’s side of the Australian Open was the health of 6-time champion Novak Djokovic. After not having hit a ball on the pro tour since mid-July due to a right elbow, the Serb didn’t disappoint by hammering American Donald Young 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
“It felt great to be back on the court and compete again,” said Djokovic. “It’s been a while obviously you don’t know how you’re going to start off. I was putting a lot of hours on the court in the past couple weeks.”
“Well, the first two sets went extremely well, considering that I haven’t played for six months. The third was, you know, up and down a little bit, but in general was a great performance.”
Djokovic did drop serve once, but otherwise was rock solid in his delivery. And under the watchful eyes of Andre Agassi and new coach Radek Stepanek, Djokovic looked to be in prime form off the ground.
“Second serve was very, very good. I’m very happy with the second serve. First serve was kind of up and down,” Djokovic said. “When you come back after a long time and you play first match, you know, obviously all the things are a bit exaggerated, whatever is not working well. You think, Wow.
“All in all, I’m quite pleased. I know that it’s going to take a little bit of time for me to kind of work my way in and get used to the specific changes that I’ve made in my service motion.
“It wasn’t ideal, but it was still good. I’m looking forward to work on it more. I hope to improve in this aspect.”
While Young offered little resistance, that should change Thursday for Djokovic when he faces not just a heat wave but also Gael Monfils.
Djokovic wasn’t the only former champion making a comeback. Like Djokovic, Stan Warinka also hadn’t played since Wimbledon, his ailment was a left knee. The Swiss, though, prevailed in a tough 4 set win over Recardis Berankis 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6. Berankis actually led with a break in the fourth but couldn’t hold it.
“It’s great to be back. It’s great to win, for sure. Was a tough one in all aspect of the game, of the energy,” Wawrinka said. “In general, I’m really happy to get through a match like that, to fight the way I did today, to win the match like this.”
Tournament favorite Roger Federer took to the court in the evening to open his title defense and had no trouble with Aljaz Bedene rolling the Slovenian 6-3, 6-4, 6-3. Federer now meets Jan-Lennard Struff on Thursday.
Also on the last day of the first round, No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev saved a set point in third to beat Thomas Fabbiano 6-1, 7-6(5), 7-5.
“The first set was really good,” Zverev said. “It was similar to what I felt like in practice and the week before. As I said in the press conference before, I felt really good in the practice week. And then got a little bit sloppy, but I think that’s normal. That’s just lack of matches.
“But I’m happy to get through, and hopefully it will be better in the next round.”
Former semifinalist Milos Raonic was the big upset of the day going down to 30-year-old Lukas Lacko 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-4, 7-6(4). And recent Auckland winner Roberta Bautista Agut was bounced by countryman Fernando Verdasco.
Tomas Berdych dashed the hopes of promising Aussie 18-year-old Alex De Minaur.
“I’m happy with the effort I put in and the fight,” said De Minaur. “I managed to get that set. But then he was just too good for me. He blew me off the court. I left it all out there, but it wasn’t enough.”
Other winners were Dominic Thiem, Fabio Fognini, David Goffin and Sam Querrey who blasted Feliciano Lopez.
In the last match of the night, Juan Martin del Potro made his return to Melbourne after a 4-year absence by knocking out American teen Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 6-4, 6-3. The Argentine will next face fellow big man Karen Khachanov in the heat on Thursday.
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