Novak Djokovic confessed that he was “pleasantly surprised” to see a full crowd at the Adelaide International for his first singles match of the season on Tuesday. The world No 5 defeated Constant Lestienne 6-3 6-2 in front of a packed Centre Court in what was his first match Down Under since he was deported from the country last year.
Djokovic started his season with a routine straight-sets win over the world No 65 on Tuesday, but his opening round in Adelaide was anything but normal as it marked his first singles match and his first win in Australia since 2021, after he was deported from the country last year in an ordeal that saw his visa cancelled twice.
The 35-year-old had already received some indication of the fan reaction to himself in Australia when he joined forces with Vasek Pospisil in the doubles on Monday but admitted that even he was surprised by the level of support in his first singles match, with a large Serbian community turning out to cheer on the top seed. “To see the packed house for my first match was definitely a very pleasant surprise, and lots of support, lots of love,” he confessed after the match.
“That obviously motivated me and allowed me to express myself in the best possible way on the court with my game.” The 91-time title winner was also happy with his performance as he needed just an hour and 14 minutes to advance to the second round, as he added: “I thought I played very solid, competitive start.
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“I think for six games, we were kind of close. He had also break point. I managed to play solid in important moments and got rewarded with the break, and after that I didn’t look back. I played really well in the second set.”
Djokovic ended the 2022 season by winning a record-equalling sixth ATP Finals title and looked to be in unbeatable form, and he carried the same level into 2023 as he dropped just nine points on his serve all match. “Yeah, it was, I think, a very good first round to open up the tournament and the season,” he said afterwards.
“Obviously the first matches of the season after a longer break are always tricky. You don’t know how you’re going to start. You hope you can play as well as you do in the practice courts, but obviously the matches are something different, and competitive play you can’t replicate on the practice court.”
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While Djokovic was more concerned with his performance, the top seed in Adelaide admitted that the reception from the crowd made it the best start he could have asked for, in scenes that were worlds away from his time in Australia 12 months ago. “I’m glad that I managed to do everything well,” he explained.
“I was concentrated. I was composed from the first to last point. We had some nice points, also. We had some good life, as well, on the court. As you mentioned, a great reception. I couldn’t ask for a better start to the season.”