Nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic may have been forced to wait longer than expected for his official return to Rod Laver Arena, but the Serbian received a thunderous applause upon his return from the Melbourne faithful. Djokovic was scheduled to make his Australian Open return in round 1 at 8.15pm local time on Tuesday, before a heat and rain delay wreaked havoc with the schedule.
While Djokovic received a warm welcome back to Melbourne - alongside Nick Kyrgios - in their charity exhibition match last week, many were still wondering what his reception would be like before his first round match. While the crowd had to wait till after 10pm for Djokovic to enter court, the nine-time Australian Open was granted a warm reception following the ugly deportation drama from last year.
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And Djokovic appeared to be in a hurry against his unseeded Spanish opponent Roberto Carballes Baena as he raced through the match 6-3, 6-4, 6-0. The match wasn't without its controversies as Djokovic appeared to run down the tunnel for an urgent bathroom break, despite not having permission from the chair umpire.
This caused a stir as the chair umpire contacted officials to find out what the Serbian was doing. However, Djokovic - with his leg heavily strapped due to his hamstring injury - appeared keen to end his first round match as quickly as possible.
During the match, chants of 'Novak' erupted in the second set. Once he got warmed up, Djokovic hit 41 winners with the match finishing at 12.30am local time in Melbourne. Fans stuck around to hear the nine-time champion speak and he was nothing but thankful for the locals that stayed.
"Unbelievable atmosphere, thank you for staying late everybody. And thank you for giving me such a welcoming reception, which I can only dream of," Djokovic said in his post-match interview.
"I am very happy to be back in Australia and back here on the court, where I've had the most success in my career. This court is the most special court in my life."
Fans were also quick to praise Djokovic's return after a year. This also included his wife Jelena Djokovic who sent a special message ahead of his first round match.
Novak Djokovic admits to injury concern
Djokovic has been carrying a hamstring injury ever since his semi-final match at the Adelaide International when he hurt himself against Daniil Medvedev. There was concern over how Djokovic would move ahead of his opening match after he cancelled a number of practice sessions.
While Djokovic admitted he was weary of the injury, he said the opening match was good for his campaign. "I was kind of testing my leg a little bit. At the beginning I was a bit tight, mentally as well, to protect something that was bothering me last 10 days," he said.
"So it took me a little bit of time to really get into the match and start moving more freely. The great sign was that the longer the match went, the better I felt, the better I moved.
"The leg is good. It's not ideal, but it's getting there. Today was a really good test."
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