Novak Djokovic began his bid for a record breaking seventh Australian Open title with a routine first round victory
Former champions Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka made successful returns to action with first-round victories at the Australian Open.
Neither man had been in competitive action since last year’s Wimbledon and both will be pleased to have come through their first tests.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal made memorable returns to action in Melbourne last year after injury ended their previous season early and Djokovic in particular served up an ominous warning that he may follow his rivals’ lead with something similar over the next fortnight.
The Serb, seeded 14th, will have been delighted with a straight-sets win over Donald Young that showcased the movement that has already taken him to 12 Grand Slam titles – six of which have been at the Australian Open, including the 2016 title that drew him level with Roy Emerson.
Djokovic showed no signs on the troublesome elbow injury that has kept him out since his quarter-final defeat to Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon, although opponent Young was unable to muster much in the way of opposition as the former world No 1 breezed to a 6-1 6-2 6-4 victory.
“It feels great to be back here and great to be back on a tennis court – there is no better place for me after six months of injury than here in Australia,” he said.
“I love playing here. It’s been a long period without competition but I used the time to spend quality time with my family. I may not have had a racket but I was still busy with a new baby and my son and things to do at home.
“I have never faced a situation like this in my career, I have only maybe had a one-month absence. It had to come eventually, this injury has been with me for a while, it escalated last year and I had to take some time off.”
Djokovic took the first set for the loss of just a single game making just two unforced errors – in contrast to Young who made 17 and failed to put the remodelled Djokovic serve under any pressure at all.
Djokovic landed a third and fourth break of serve in succession to open up the second set in the same way he had finished the first. Yet another break handed Djokovic the chance to serve for the set and despite Young finally mustering a break back of his own, Djokovic took the set in routine fashion.
It was more of the same in the third, another early break paving the way for Djokovic to canter to victory and a second-round meeting with either Gael Monfils or Jaume Munar.
Wawrinka, who failed to win a Grand Slam in 2017, the first time since 2013 he had not picked up one of the majors, was given a tougher work-out by Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis.
Stan Wawrinka overcame a mid-match slump to book a place in the second round in Melbourne
The Swiss, champion in 2014, is playing for the first time since knee surgery last summer and coasted through the opening couple of sets before overcoming a wobble that saw him lose the third and trail 3-0 in the fourth.
However, Wawrinka is made of stern stuff and he battled back for a 6-3 6-4 2-6 7-6 victory.
Djokovic’s potential fourth-round opponent is fourth seed Alexander Zverev, who got the better of Italy’s Thomas Fabbiano in an entertaining encounter.
Zverev, winner of five titles last year, held his nerve on the bigger points, particularly in the second set tie-break which could have gone either way before the German clinched it and eventually closed out a 6-1 7-6 7-5 victory.
Alexander Zverev is out to improve on a disappointing Grand Slam record and got off to the perfect start after a straight-sets victory
Next up for Zverev is Peter Gojowczyk as the youngster, tipped as a future world No 1, looks to go beyond the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time in his career.
Milos Raonic’s struggles continued after the 2016 Wimbledon finalist was beaten in four sets by Lukas Lacko.
Lukas Lacko (L) ended Milos Raonic’s hopes of a successful Aussie Open
Injuries have seen Raonic slide down the rankings and he will head back to the drawing board having seen Lacko come from a set down to clinch a second-round meeting with Nicolas Kicker.
Roberto Bautista Agut was another seeded casualty, losing in straight sets to Fernando Verdasco. Bautista Agut claimed the title in Auckland on Sunday but once again failed to translate his tour form to the Grand Slams, where he has never been beyond the fourth round.
The 20th seed lost in straight sets to 34-year-old compatriot Verdasco. who reached the Australian Open semi-finals in 2009 where he lost a five-set epic to Rafael Nadal.
The news was better for 13th seed and last year’s Wimbledon semi-finalist Sam Querrey who eased through a tough looking first round draw with Feliciano Lopez thanks to a 6-3 6-4 6-2 victory over the veteran Spaniard.