Novak Djokovic is finally back in action on day two of the Australian Open on Tuesday, returning to the venue of his greatest grand slam success, hoping his elbow will hold up after keeping him on the sidelines for six months.
Six times a men’s singles champion Down Under, the Serbian will be joined in making a return at Melbourne Park by 2008 women’s champion Maria Sharapova, who missed last year’s tournament because of a doping ban.
Men’s champion Roger Federer, women’s top seed Simona Halep and Stan Wawrinka, whose 2014 triumph interrupted six years of Djokovic dominance and who is also returning from an injury layoff, are also in first round action.
While Federer begins his title defence against Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene in primetime on Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic and Sharapova will make their bows on Margaret Court Arena.
Federer made his comeback from an injury-induced spell on the sidelines at last year’s tournament and went on to win his 18th grand slam title by beating his great rival Rafa Nadal in the final.
Djokovic, seeded 14th, will be hoping he can make a start on a similarly successful return when he takes on American Donald Young but admits to being uncertain how the elbow which forced an end to his season after last year’s Wimbledon will hold up.
“If he’s back playing you hope he’s 100 percent or close to 100 percent, but you never know where the confidence is,” three-times Melbourne champion Mats Wilander told Reuters.
“We don’t know where he is physically. But he has to be 100 percent ready emotionally, not just physically, to have a chance to win the title.”
Swiss Wawrinka admitted he was not yet free of pain from the knee injury which has also kept him out of action since Wimbledon ahead of his match against unseeded Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis.
While Halep’s match against local wildcard Destanee Aiava is also on the main showcourt, it is fair to say that Sharapova’s clash with Germany’s Tatjana Maria is probably the more intriguing match up, if only for how the crowd receives her.
Sharapova failed the dope test after her quarter-final loss to Serena Williams here two years ago and although her 15-month ban has done little to dim her appeal to tournament organisers, Melbourne fans might not be so forgiving.