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CNN

Novak Djokovic has allayed any fears that the lingering hamstring injury that has plagued him since last week will affect his performance at the Australian Open, as the world No. -3 6-4 6-0 in opening. tour in Melbourne.

It was certainly a stern opening test for Djokovic, as world No. 75 Carballés Baena proved a brave and determined opponent for the first two sets.

However, Djokovic finally broke the resistance of Carballés Baena with a truly stunning third set of tennis to kick off his quest for a record 10th Australian Open title from the best possible start.

Djokovic was warmly welcomed by the crowd in Melbourne, as he did last week in his winning run at the Adelaide warm-up event, in his first appearance at the Australian Open since the debacle of the deportation a year ago.

“Amazing atmosphere, thanks for staying so late everyone,” Djokovic said to applause and cheers in his post-match interview. “Thank you also for offering such a welcome and such a reception that I could only dream of.

“I am very happy to be back in Australia and back here on the ground where I had the greatest success of my career. This court is the most special of my life.

“The more you win on a certain court, the more comfortable and confident you feel. That’s probably one of the reasons why I was lucky enough to win a lot of games on this court during the session. nocturnal.

“If I have to choose one court and one condition, it would be night sessions on Rod Laver Arena all day.”

Novak Djokovic waves to the crowd after his first-round win.

The victory was Djokovic’s 35th consecutive victory in Australia and the signs were ominous for Carballés Baena in the opening exchanges.

With the scores tied at 2-2 and the game only 19 minutes away, the difference in effort between the two players was already apparent.

At one end, Carballés Baena was breathing hard, his soaked shirt already sticking to him. On the other, it looked like Djokovic barely broke a sweat.

However, the Serb soon had to work hard as Carballés Baena took a 0-40 lead in the fifth game to earn three break points.

Djokovic’s left thigh was tightly strapped as he continued to deal with the hamstring injury that forced him to pull out of a practice match last week and fans might have briefly started to fret. ask if it bothered him.

But the 21-time Grand Slam champion quickly allayed those fears and snatched five consecutive points to hold serve, then quickly proceeded to break Carballés Baena to love.

It wasn’t just the Spaniard’s serve that Djokovic shattered, but also his spirit, as the world No. 5 won 13 of the next 15 points to take a 5-2 lead.

Maintaining that early level of intensity just to keep pace with Djokovic was always going to be difficult for Carballés Baena and the nine-time Australian Open champion quickly closed the first set 6-3.

Carballés Baena gave Djokovic a stern test in the first round.

However, huge credit must go to Carballés Baena for not letting first-set disappointment affect his morale, as the 29-year-old continued to play aggressive tennis and stunning defense to really earn Djokovic his first game of service from the second. Position.

With the scores tied at 3-3, an epic 28-shot rally – which Djokovic won after chasing down a Carballés Baena bunt – set the tone for what would be the deciding game of the second set.

It was a grueling five-minute job with Djokovic eventually getting the upper hand to break serve for the first time in the set, before continuing to love in the very next game.

Another catch of serve from Carballés Baena allowed Djokovic to serve for the second set, but he was again keen to take a lead in two sets.

The match was now seemingly over as a contest as Djokovic won the first two games of the third set to love and then beat Carballés Baena to take a 3-0 lead.

It was a truly absurd period of tennis, in which Djokovic won 16 out of 17 points as the Serb turned up the heat and entered the zone that made him completely unplayable at certain points in his career.

For all of Djokovic’s potential Australian Open opponents watching, perhaps the scariest part of that final set was that the 35-year-old apparently still played well within his limits.

Djokovic closed the final set without dropping a game to send a real statement of intent to the rest of the draw.

It was a tough end to the game for Carballés Baena, who performed admirably in the first two sets to make this opener a real contest.

If there was anyone who doubted Djokovic’s status as an Australian Open favorite before this game, there won’t be now.

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