MELBOURNE, Australia. Supportive signs, dozens of Serbian flags and loud chants of Novak Djokovic’s moniker filled the arena for Rod Laver, warmly welcoming his return to the Australian Open, a tournament he’s dominated in the past but failed to enter. a year ago.
Djokovic returned the salute with a quick wave of his left hand as he entered the court and then got down to business, playing fairly well and only briefly showing a hint of trouble with a stubborn left hamstring that was heavily bandaged.
With his parents and brother in the stands at Melbourne Park for the first time since he won his first Grand Slam title 15 years ago, Djokovic started the first round match with an ace at 125 mph. There he held his own, took control of that set with a 12-point streak and was on his way to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 victory over 75th placed Roberto Carbales Baena, which ended after midnight.
“Incredible atmosphere. Thank you all for staying so late. Also, thank you for giving me the kind of hospitality and welcome that I can only dream of,” Djokovic told the audience in an interview on the court. “I am really very happy to be back in Australia and back here on the court where I have had the biggest success of my career.”
Djokovic’s participation is one of the main storylines, and maybe the MAIN one, of the first Grand Slam tournament of 2023. This is because Djokovic failed to score a single point on the court in nine of his major championships last season because his visa was blocked. and he was deported from Australia following a legal saga over his lack of any COVID-19 vaccine.
He never got shot and also missed the US Open because of it. But the Australian government has since eased coronavirus-related restrictions, allowing Djokovic to travel to the country, as well as lifting a rule that could have prevented him from entering for up to three years after his visa was revoked. He insisted that the entire episode in January 2022 deeply affected him, but he doesn’t hold a grudge; Of course, he didn’t have any hard feelings.
The audience, who politely applauded Carballes Baena as he entered the stadium, stood up and roared in support of the 35-year-old Djokovic. Singing football-style “Ole, ole, ole, ole!” followed by the two-syllable nickname “Nole!” (pronounced NO-leh) echoed under the arena’s closed retractable roof and repeated over and over again: during the warm-up; when Djokovic moved to the other side of the net after the first game; when he was in the midst of climbing out of the 40 love hole in the first set (the only three break points he faced all night); when he broke down to lead 4-3 in the second; etc., etc., etc. There was more of that applause at the end, and Djokovic smiled widely.
Reviewing his performance, Djokovic said he found himself “up and down a bit” in the second set, but didn’t give his opponent “too many chances to rest” in the third. Regarding his hamstring, Djokovic said that he was apprehensive about his appearance in the match, but after that he commented: “The leg is fine. It’s not perfect, but it strives for it.”
It wasn’t necessarily Djokovic at his best, and he seemed to show some frustration early on as he continued to glare and mutter at coach Goran Ivanisevic and the rest of his entourage in the stands. But Djokovic didn’t have to be at his best. He certainly showed strong enough tennis to take the first step towards what he hopes will be his 22nd Grand Slam title to equal rival Rafael Nadal’s record for most men in tennis history.
Djokovic, who has spent more weeks at number one in the ATP rankings than anyone else, also has a chance of returning to that spot after the next two weeks; Carlos Alcaraz, who currently holds the seat, is out of the Australian Open due to a leg injury.
MELBOURNE, Australia. As Taylor Townsend prepared to return to professional tennis after becoming a mom almost two years ago, she turned to a couple of pretty good sources for advice: Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters.
Clijsters, who has won three of her four Grand Slam titles as a mother, gave this advice, according to Townsend, a 26-year-old left-hander from Chicago who won her first-round match at the Australian Open: Mom, take your time and take your time because that you don’t want to come back feeling pressured or something like that. It was like my mentality when I came back: I want to enjoy motherhood. I want to understand my son. I don’t want to feel pressure like “I have to play”.
Townsend gave birth to AJ in March 2021 and since then, a 6-1, 6-1 victory over France’s Diane Parry at Melbourne Park marked her first Grand Slam singles event.
“My goal is just to try and inspire people and moms to show that you can do whatever you want,” Townsend said. “Having a baby doesn’t stop you from hustling and working and just being the best at whatever you want to do.”
Townsend’s game was too difficult for Parry: the American never faced a break chance, hit seven aces and won the point on 11 of 12 hits in the net. She compiled 23 winners to eight for Parry.
All this took only 57 minutes.
“It was a very, very bad day for me,” Parry said. Asked how much of it was done by her or Townsend, Parry replied, “A lot of me and also her.”
In the final off-season, Townsend took what she described as the first “solo vacation” of her life, spending 10 days in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
It did wonders for her mindset, but it also cut down on the amount of time she spent with AJ, which made this trip to Australia a little more challenging for Townsend.
“When I left home, I was very sad. … (But) when I leave, it is incredibly important for me to consider the time that I leave. I talk to him, and before matches I look at photos and videos and just remind myself why I am doing this and why I am leaving, so it means something, ”she said. “It’s really important to take those moments into account and be able to show the ups and downs. … I’m just trying to be the best example for him, both when he’s with me and (when) he’s not here. I hope he’s proud of it.”
MELBOURNE, Australia. Flags from Russia and Belarus have been banned from the Australian Open website after spectators carried more than one flag into the stands on the first day of the year’s first Grand Slam.
Flags can normally be flown during matches at Melbourne Park. But Tennis Australia has reversed that policy regarding two countries involved in the invasion of Ukraine that began nearly a year ago.
“Our initial policy was that fans could bring in (flags) but not be able to use them to cause disruptions,” Tennis Australia said in a statement on Tuesday. “Yesterday we had an incident where a flag was planted at the court. We will continue to work with the players and our fans to provide the best possible environment to enjoy tennis.”
One Russian flag was flown during Ukrainian tennis player Katerina Beindl’s 7-5, 6-7 (8), 6-1 victory over Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova on court 14 in the first round on Monday.
The other was offered to Russian player Daniil Medvedev for an autograph following his 6-0, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Marcos Giron at the Rod Laver Arena on Monday night.
Asked about the new flag ban, Belarusian tennis player Arina Sabolenko said after winning in the first round on Tuesday that she would prefer politics and sport to remain separate, but understand Tennis Australia’s decision.
“I mean, if it gets better for everyone, then everything is fine,” said Sobalenko, a three-time Grand Slam semi-finalist and seeded No. 5 at Melbourne Park. “I have no control over this. What can I say? They did it. WELL. No flags? No flags.”
Sobolenko was among athletes from Russia and Belarus banned from Wimbledon and team events like the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup last year because of the war in Ukraine. Russia invaded with the help of Belarus in February.
Russian and Belarusian players were allowed to compete in the other three Grand Slams, but as “neutral” athletes, so their nationality is not shown on any official schedules or results of the competition, and their country’s flags are not displayed on TV graphics.