Novak Djokovic soaked up thunderous applause in his first match back at the Australian Open after last year’s deportation drama, as the nine-times champion outclassed Roberto Carballes Baena 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 on Tuesday in a flawless start to his title bid.
Returning to Melbourne Park where the prolific Serbian was denied a title defence in 2022 after being sent home amid public fury for not having a COVID-19 vaccination, Djokovic saved three early break points to win the first set as fans sang his name.
“I felt very welcome on the court, especially the Serbian community that is big here in Australia has welcomed me in an incredible way. So much support. So much love,” Djokovic told reporters.
“I couldn’t ask for a better start to the tournament in terms of support, in terms of how I felt on the court and also playing.”
A heavily strapped left thigh due to a hamstring strain he suffered en route to the Adelaide title proved little hindrance for the 35-year-old who was enjoying his time in front of the Rod Laver Arena crowd as he took the second to double his lead.
Striking the ball superbly throughout, Djokovic underlined his credentials as favourite to win the title, which would take him level with holder Rafa Nadal on 22 majors, by wrestling Carballes Baena into submission in a one-sided third set.
Djokovic, who can claim grab the world number one ranking from Carlos Alcaraz by winning the title in Melbourne, said he was not too focused on that and the big numbers he can achieve at the year’s first Grand Slam.
“It’s important to try to get as close as possible to the balance between using possibilities and achievements out there as a motivational factor, as a goal-setting type of motivation, that will drive you as a guiding star,” he said.
“But at the same time, balance it with an everyday task so that you have to accomplish in a proper way in order to stay in the present moment, which is when you are able to perform your best -- at least in my case.
“I’ve been in the situations before where I’ve played for really big historic things and I’ve been blessed to have more success than failures in those particular situations. I know how to behave, I know how to handle it. Let’s see how far I can go.”
Watched on by his parents and brother, who had proven to be lucky charms in the stands when Djokovic won his first major in 2008, the fourth seed also extended his run without a defeat on Australian soil to 35 matches.
“I’m really glad to have them here... the last time they were here, the only time they were, was in 2008. We have some great memories about the time that they spent here together 15 years ago,” he said.
“Hopefully they can stay all the way, I can stay all the way and we can have another great celebration.”