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Novak Djokovic wins first match in return to Aussie Open

Jan 13, 2023; Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; Novak Djokovic of Serbia hits a shot during an exhibition practice match against Nick Kyrgios of Australia on Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park. Mandatory Credit: Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports

Novak Djokovic received a warm welcome in his return to the Australian Open on Tuesday in Melbourne, Australia.

With Serbian flags waving in the crowd, the fourth-seeded Djokovic breezed to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 victory over Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain in their first-round match.

Djokovic reeled off 12 straight points in a row at one stretch en route to ending the match in 2 hours, 2 minutes.

It was his first match at Melbourne Park since 2021 because his visa was blocked and he was deported from the country after a legal saga involving his lack of any vaccination against COVID-19. The Australian government has since relaxed its coronavirus-related restrictions.

“Unbelievable atmosphere. Thank you so much for staying this late, everybody. Also, thank you for giving me such a welcoming and a reception I can only dream of,” Djokovic said in an on-court interview. “I really feel very happy that I’m back in Australia and I’m back here on the court where I had the biggest success in my career.”

Djokovic, 35, has won 22 matches in a row on Rod Laver Arena since 2019 and 35 straight overall on Australian soil. Should Djokovic win the Australian Open, he will match Rafael Nadal’s record total of 22 Grand Slam titles — the most in tennis history by a man.

Second-seeded Casper Ruud of Norway posted a 6-3, 7-6 (6), 6-7 (5), 6-3 win over Tomas Machac of the Czech Republic, and fifth-seeded Andrey Rublev of Russia seized a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over wild-card Dominic Thiem of Austria.

Thiem was given a wild card after missing much of 2021 due to injury. He is a runner-up at the Australian Open in 2020 and the U.S. Open winner the same year.

“This tournament doesn’t change anything, because I just had a really tough opponent,” he said. “I hope that I can improve the results at the South American clay.”

Other seeded winners included No. 9 Holger Rune of Denmark, No. 12 Alexander Zverev of Germany, No. 14 Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain, No. 22 Alex de Minaur of Australia, No. 23 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, No. 25 Daniel Evans of Great Britain, No. 27 Grigor Dmitrov of Bulgaria and No. 30 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain.

No. 13 Matteo Berrettini was not as fortunate. Great Britain’s Andy Murray outlasted the Italian in a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 decision.

Czech qualifier Nicolas Jarry had a much easier time of it, posting a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (3) win over Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia .

–Field Level Media