Novak Djokovic resumed his Grand Slam domination Tuesday night in Melbourne cruising past American qualifier Mitchell Krueger 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.
“It’s great to be back playing healthy, and feeling good on the court,” said Djokovic who suffered from an elbow injury in Melbourne a year ago. “It took me several months to regain my confidence and comfort level on the court. The last six months have been terrific. I’m very grateful to have experienced this kind of joy.
“Playing Krueger for the first time, I didn’t really know what to expect. I did my homework, tried to do some research on him, but it was quite tricky and quite different playing him. It was a very competitive match – we both had to work hard, we were both pumped, and showed some emotions on the court. But I enjoyed the match.”
Djokovic, who is seeking a record 7th Australian Open title, has now won his last 15 matches in Grand Slam play since a stunning loss to Marco Cecchinato at the French Open.
Djokovic is now 29-0 as a top seed at the Australian Open. Next will be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a rematch of their 2008 Australian final.
“It’s funny – 11 years after our first Grand Slam final here, it feels like a lot has happened for both of us,” said Djokovic. “He’s also struggled with injuries lately. It’s good to see him playing well, it’s good to see him back.
“I know what to expect. I’ve played him many times. I lost to him, as well. In this court, as well, in Rod Laver back in 2010. I’m going to approach it as any other match, to be honest: really optimistic, but also respectful, trying to do whatever I can to win it.”
After some injuries leading into Melbourne, No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev was in good form in a 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 win over Aljaz Bedene.
“I was a little bit sloppy in the beginning, a little bit sleepy maybe, and the break really was like a wakeup call, you know, that I have to start focusing and start playing from the first match on,” Zverev said. “There is really a lot of good unseeded players here, and he’s one of them. I was happy with how I could turn things around very quickly and after that the match went well.”
Zverev will face former Australian Open quarterfinalist Jeremy Chardy who won the first-ever men’s final set tiebreak Tuesday over countryman Ugo Humbert.
Brisbane champion Kei Nishikori kept it going, but needed help. His young opponent, Kamil Majchrzak, retired in the fifth down 3-6, 6-7(6), 6-0, 6-2, 3-0 due to cramps.
In his Slam debut, the 23-year-old Majchrzak was not at all in awe of the situation, and was in total control of the Japanese. But the heat got the best of the Pol who left almost in tears.
“I have to say he had it today,” Nishikori said. “He was playing very well, better than I thought, I have to say.”
Also retiring with injury was Ernests Gulbis who was up a set on Stan Wawrinka before his back did him in.
“That’s not the way you want to get through a match,” the former champion Wawrinka said. “It’s sad for him because he was playing well. It’s the beginning of the season. Hopefully it’s not too bad, that’s for sure.
“For me, the first set, he was playing well. I was a little bit looking for my game, little bit looking to play my tennis. He didn’t give me so much time.”
Australian hard-luck kid Thanasi Kokkinakis had won the first set over Taro Daniel only to later retire with a pectoral muscle injury which hampered his serve.
“I came in with a little bit of a cloud,” Kokkinakis said. “But it just started getting way worse during the match. Got to a point where it was affecting me, coming down my arm, just wasn’t great.
“It’s tough. Especially just the atmosphere here is so good. I love playing in front of those guys. I felt like I was actually playing pretty good tennis. I just couldn’t serve or hit a hard ball.”
Kokkinakis’s countryman Nick Kyrgios struggled with his knee in a straight-set 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-4 loss to Milos Raonic. Raonic joins Canadian buddy Denis Shapovalov who rolled in his opener.
“He played unbelievable,” Kyrgios said of Raonic. “Unbelievable serving. Never seen serving like that in my life. I’ve never been a part of it. I was just watching it literally going side to side. I was trying to mix up where I was standing, trying to move before, during, like trying to do anything.
“He was in such a good rhythm on serve, I couldn’t do anything. He was way too good tonight. Every time I returned, he served and volleyed. He volleyed unbelievable. He was so composed on big points, he made returns, jag returns on big points on my serve. He was way too good for me tonight.”
Raonic smacked 30 aces and lost just six points on first serve. The former semifinalist never lost serve.
Ivo Karlovic, Borna Coric and Hyeon Chung, who came from two sets down to deny Bradley Klahn, were also winners. And Dominic Thiem was up early on Benoit Paire in the last match of the day.
On Wednesday, the second round begins with the return of former champions Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Marin Cilic, Gael Monfils, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Kevin Anderson and Alex de Minaur are also in action.
WEDNESDAY AUSTRALIAN OPEN SCHEDULE
Rod Laver Arena
From 11:00am AEDT
S. Stephens(5) v T. Babos
A. Barty(15) v Y. Wang
Not before 2:00pm AEDT
D. Evans(Q) v R. Federer(3)
From 7:00pm AEDT
B. Haddad Maia(Q) v A. Kerber(2)
M. Ebden v R. Nadal(2)
Margaret Court Arena
From 11:00am AEDT
A. Pavlyuchenkova v K. Bertens(9)
K. Anderson(5) v F. Tiafoe
J. Larsson v C. Wozniacki(3)
From 7:00pm AEDT
A. de Minaur(27) v H. Laaksonen(Q)
M. Sharapova(30) v R. Peterson
From 11:00am AEDT
A. Kontaveit(20) v A. Sasnovich
M. Cilic(6) v M. McDonald
K. Boulter v A. Sabalenka(11)
Not before 5:00pm AEDT
R. Bautista Agut(22) v J. Millman
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