MELBOURNE (Australia) — A crowd of supportive signs, dozens of Serbian flags, and shouts of Novak Djokovic’s name filled Rod Laver Arena. It was a warm welcome for his return to the Australian Open, a tournament he won in the past, but which he couldn’t enter last year.
Djokovic quickly acknowledged the greeting by waving his left hand as he stepped onto the court at 10:30 on Tuesday. He then played very well, with only a slight hint of discomfort from his taped left hamstring.
Djokovic started the match at Melbourne Park with an ace of 125 mph (201 km/h) and his brother, his parents, in the stands. Djokovic held on to that love and took control of the set with a 12-point run. He then won the match 6-3,6-4,6-0 against Roberto Carballes Baena, who was 75th in ranking. The match ended after midnight.
“Unbelievable atmosphere. Everyone, thank you so much for being there so late. In an interview on the court, Djokovic also thanked everyone for their warm welcome and hospitality. “I’m very happy to be back in Australia, and I’m back on the court where my greatest success was.”
Djokovic’s participation in the Grand Slam tournament of 2023 is one of the main storylines. Djokovic was unable to play at all nine of his major championships last season due to a visa block and was then deported from Australia following a legal battle related to his inability to get COVID-19 vaccination.
Djokovic never got the shots and missed the U.S. Open due to it. Australia’s government has since relaxed coronavirus restrictions and allowed Djokovic to enter the country. They also waived a rule that would have prevented him from entering for three years after a visa revocation. Although he insists that the whole January 2022 episode deeply affected him, he doesn’t hold grudges. There certainly weren’t any hard feelings towards him Tuesday.
The 35-year old Djokovic was greeted by a crowd of adoring fans who stood up and applauded him when he entered the arena. The arena’s retractable roof was closed and Djokovic began to sing a soccer-style song called “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole!”. This was followed by the two-syllable moniker, “Nole!” (pronounced NOL-eh). Djokovic smiled wide at the end of the cheers.
Djokovic graded his play and said that he felt he was “kinda going up and down” during the second set but didn’t allow his opponent to “too much time to breathe” during the third.
Djokovic was not at his best and showed frustration early on by glaring and murmuring in the direction Goran Ivanisevic, his coach, and his entourage. Djokovic didn’t necessarily have to be at his best. Djokovic produced enough tennis to make the first step towards what he hopes to be a 22nd Grand Slam title, which will tie Rafael Nadal’s record of the most tennis titles won by a male player.
Djokovic has spent more weeks at No. Djokovic, who has spent more weeks at No. 1 in the ATP rankings, could also return to that position after the next two weeks. Carlos Alcaraz is currently out of the Australian Open with a leg injury.