Tennis-Djokovic gets the welcome he wished for in Adelaide

ADELAIDE (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic cruised through his first singles match in Australia since being deported last year with a 6-3 6-2 victory over Constant Lestienne at the Adelaide International 1 on Tuesday.

The 35-year-old Serb was deported on the eve of the 2022 Australian Open for not being vaccinated against COVID-19 and received a three-year travel ban for the country, which was waived in November.

After being well received by fans during a rare doubles appearance on Monday, Djokovic began his preparations for the Jan. 16-29 Australian Open against world number 65 Lestienne by racing through the opening set.

The 21-times Grand Slam champion turned up the heat on his French opponent with a double break to go 4-0 up in the second set before Lestienne got on the board, but Djokovic closed out the match in style as supporters chanted his name.

“I have to say, I’m glad to be back in Australia, thank you all for coming out,” Djokovic said on court. “Thank you for giving me the welcome I could only wish for.

“… If I have to pick one country where I’ve had the most success, which treated me in the best way in terms of tennis, it’s here. I won my first Grand Slam here in 2008 and I have nine Australian Open titles – I’ve had some epic matches.

“Australia has been the place where I play my best tennis and I look forward to coming here. The circumstances last year were as they were and it wasn’t easy for anybody but I’m happy to be here, focus on tennis and enjoy my time with you guys.”

Up next for world number five Djokovic is another Frenchman in Quentin Halys, who beat Australian Jordan Thompson 6-3 6-4.

Former U.S. Open champion Daniil Medvedev also advanced to the second round of the ATP 250 tournament when Lorenzo Sonego retired with a right arm injury while trailing 7-6(6) 2-1.

Medvedev, who lost to Rafa Nadal in last year’s Melbourne Park final, saved nine set points to win the opening set.

“That’s actually crazy,” Medvedev said. “Probably the first time in my life I’ve saved nine set points.

“What a match to start the year. Unfortunate for everybody that it finished early in a way, even if we played one hour and 40 minutes, but happy to be through.”

Medvedev plays Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic for a quarter-final spot.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)