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Novak Djokovic romps to victory in first singles clash in Australia since deportation

Preparing for the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic won his first match in the country since his deportation in 2022

Novak Djokovic celebrates after winning his first round match at the ATP Adelaide International tournament. (AFP)

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Novak Djokovic swept to victory in his first singles match on Australian soil since being deported a year ago, crushing Constant Lestienne at the Adelaide International Tuesday to kick-start his bid for another Grand Slam title.

The Serbian superstar was given a warm welcome when he played a losing doubles clash on Monday and received similar treatment on a packed centre court. He beat the Frenchman comfortably 6-3, 6-2 in 74 minutes, breaking once in the first set and twice in the second. "For the first match I can't complain, I played very well," Djokovic said. "Thank you all for coming out today. Thank you for giving me the welcome that I could only wish for. Even the circumstances last year, it wasn't easy for anybody. But I'm just happy to be here focusing on tennis, and enjoying my time with you guys."

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It was his first singles clash in the country after being kicked out before the 2022 Australian Open for not being vaccinated for covid-19. Djokovic was subsequently barred from re-entering for three years. The ban was lifted in November, allowing him a chance to win an unprecedented 10th Australian Open crown at Melbourne Park later this month.

Daniil Medvedev, who lost to Djokovic in the 2021 Australian Open final, also tasted victory, saving an incredible nine set points on his way to a 7-6 (8/6), 2-1 win over Italian Lorenzo Sonego who retired hurt. Jannik Sinner, Denis Shapovalov and Victoria Azarenka were among other winners.

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Fourth seed Andrey Rublev was cruising, up a set and 3-1 against Roberto Bautista Agut when the Spaniard began to turn the tables, emerging with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory. Rublev's game fell apart as his opponent earned his 19th career win over a Top 10 player. "I'm really happy with how I played," the winner said. "Andrey is a very tough opponent, it's tough to beat him on this kind of court. I played aggressive and didn't give up. and was able to turn it around."

There was disappointment for Andy Murray 17 years after his only previous Adelaide appearance. The three-time Grand Slam winner failed to fire in a 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 defeat by American Sebastian, who earned a second victory over the veteran.

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Top seed Djokovic served to love to open his account and it went with serve until he pounced in game six, working two break points with Lestienne netting a forehand to go 4-2 behind. He calmly closed out the set in 38 minutes and took full control in the second, quickly breaking twice to move 3-0 clear before cruising home. Djokovic will play another Frenchman Quentin Halys next for a place in the quarter-finals of a tournament he won in 2007.

Before his haul of 21 major trophies, the then 19-year-old Serb beat Chris Guccione in the final ahead of his breakthrough triumph over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Australian Open a year later.

Former world number one Medvedev, seeded two, also progressed but was given a tough workout by Sonego, a champion in Metz last year.  They played a cracking 80-minute first set in their maiden meeting. Sonego fended off three break points, but the tables were turned in game nine with the Russian forced to save six set points after a series of uncharacteristic unforced errors.

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He saved another three set points in the next game before prevailing in the tiebreak. They exchanged breaks in the second set before Sonego retired after treatment on his right arm. "I didn't know it was nine set points, that's crazy and probably the first time in my life I've saved nine set points," said Medvedev, who suffered a demoralising five-set loss from two sets up against Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final last year when Djokovic was absent. "What a match to start the year and definitely unfortunate for everybody that it finished early even though we played for 1hr 40mins. I'm happy to be through and to win the first set."

He will next meet Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic. Sixth seeded Italian Sinner beat Britain's Kyle Edmund in straight sets while Canadian seventh seed Shapovalov ground out a three set win over Australian qualifier Rinky Hijikata. In an upset on the women's side, Estonian former world number two Anett Kontaveit was stunned by Chinese qualifier Zheng Qinwen 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (9/7). But former two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka survived a tough battle with Ukraine's Anhelina Kalinina 7-6 (11/9), 7-6 (7/5).

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