Novak Djokovic storms into Australian Open second round on return

Serbian star defeats Roberto Carballes Baena in straight sets on Tuesday

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Novak Djokovic marked his return to the Australian Open with a clinical straight-sets win over Roberto Carballes Baena in Melbourne on Tuesday.

Djokovic was back at the Grand Slam one year after his deportation from Australia for refusing to have a Covid-19 vaccination. Putting the memories of that harrowing experience behind him, Djokovic overcame his 75th-ranked opponent 6-3, 6-4, 6-0.

The nine-time Australian Open champion received a rapturous welcome back to the major Down Under on Tuesday and quickly got down to business, only briefly showing a hint of trouble from a problematic left hamstring.

He began the first-round match with an ace at 125mph (201kph) and a love hold, took control of that set with a 12-point run and secured victory in a match that finished after midnight.

Djokovic saved three early break points to win the first set as fans sang his name.

A heavily strapped left thigh due to a hamstring strain he suffered on his way to clinching the Adelaide title proved little hindrance for Djokovic 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, Djokovic underlined his credentials as favourite to win the title, which would take him level with holder Rafael Nadal on 22 majors, by wrestling Carballes Baena into submission in a one-sided third set.

"Thank you for giving me such a welcoming reception that I could only dream of," said Djokovic.

"I feel really happy that I'm back here in Australia and on the court where I have had the biggest success in my career.

"Definitely this court is the most special court in my life and I couldn't ask for a better start to the tournament."

In Djokovic's absence last year, Rafael Nadal won the title to claim a 21st Grand Slam which he stretched to 22 at the French Open.

"I'm very, very pleased with the way I played in the third set. I didn't give him too much chance to breathe from the back of the court," Djokovic added.

"I served very well. Second set was up and down and credit to him for fighting."

Updated: January 17, 2023, 2:11 PM