Novak Djokovic enjoyed a rousing reception on a winning return to the Australian Open on Tuesday and Andy Murray rolled back the years to stun Matteo Berrettini in a classic.

On a day of bans on Russian flags and weather-induced disruption, two of the sport’s biggest names belatedly brought the focus back on tennis in Melbourne.

A heavy title favourite, the 35-year-old Djokovic was back after his deportation last year because of his stance on Covid vaccines.

If the Serb was worried about how he might be received by the Melbourne Park crowd, he needn’t have been — the nine-time Australian Open champion walked out to loud cheers.

Against the backdrop of chants of “Nole”, Djokovic sent Spain’s 75th-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena packing at Rod Laver Arena, 6-3, 6-4, 6-0, to surge into round two.

“Thank you for giving me such a welcoming reception that I could only dream of,” said Djokovic, who is chasing a record-equalling 22nd major title.

“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.”

Prior to that, the day had belonged to another 35-year-old in Murray — and Melbourne’s famously fickle weather.

The Briton saved match point to defeat Italy’s 13th seed Berrettini 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (7/9), 7-6 (10/6) in 4hrs 49mins at Rod Laver Arena, where the roof was closed because of the extreme heat.

“I will be feeling this this evening and tomorrow,” said the former world number one, who plays with a metal hip after career-saving surgery.

“But right now unbelievably happy and proud of myself.”

Also in the men’s draw, Norwegian second seed Casper Ruud battled through to the second round with a 6-3, 7-6 (8/6), 6-7 (5/7), 6-3 defeat of Tomas Machac.

The match finished after 1:00 am.

“It’s been a long day,” said Ruud, after kicking off a campaign that could see him become world number one.

Earlier, Russia’s fifth seed Andrey Rublev ended the tournament of 2020 finalist Dominic Thiem 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 Fahrenheit) temperatures.

As the mercury rose, the heat forced play to be halted on outside courts. The roofs were closed on the three main stadiums: Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and John Cain Arena.

Play resumed on the outside courts about three hours later, only to be disrupted again in the evening when a storm hit, dumping torrential rain that eventually saw some matches suspended for the day.

Eighth-seeded Taylor Fritz, 12th seed Alexander Zverev and ninth seed Holger Rune all rolled into the next round.

– Jabeur labours –
The women’s draw threw up no real shocks.

Tunisia’s second seed Ons Jabeur, runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open last year, was far from her fluent best but eventually defeated Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek.

The shaky Jabeur won the first set on a tiebreak, lost the second 6-4, then finally found her rhythm to clinch the decider 6-1.

“I just tried to follow what my coach told me to do,” she said of her turnaround in the third set.

“I wasn’t really doing that and he’s going to kill me after the match,” she joked.

Caroline Garcia and Aryna Sabalenka — fourth and fifth seeds respectively — had it easier as they swept into the second round.

France’s Garcia took just 65 minutes to overwhelm Canadian qualifier Katherine Sebov 6-3, 6-0 and cement her status as a contender for the first Grand Slam of the year.

Sabalenka beat the Czech Republic’s Tereza Martincova 6-1, 6-4.

The 26th seed Elise Mertens was another winner. The Belgian outlasted Spain’s former Melbourne finalist Garbine Muguruza, who was cramping before losing 3-6, 7-6 (7/3), 6-1.

– Russian flag ban –
Earlier Tuesday, Tennis Australia banned Russian and Belarusian flags after a complaint from the Ukrainian ambassador to Australia.

The red, white and blue stripes of Russia were seen Monday during at least two matches, with Ukrainian fans reportedly calling security and police to the stands.

“The ban is effective immediately,” said Tennis Australia.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian and Belarusian players have normally competed under a neutral flag as independents, as is the case at the Australian Open.



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