MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic returned to competitive tennis with a bang on Wednesday, bringing a six-month spell on the sidelines to an end with a thumping 6-1 6-4 win over world number five Dominic Thiem at the Kooyong Classic exhibition tournament.
Six-times Australian Open champion Djokovic pulled out of a tournament in Abu Dhabi last week because of continuing problems with his right elbow and wore a sleeve over the joint during his round robin match against the Austrian.
In a huge boost for Melbourne Park organizers, who have already lost Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori to injury, Djokovic showed no obvious discomfort as he broke Thiem three times to win the first set in just 21 minutes.
“It was a great start, it feels really good to be back on the court,” a beaming Djokovic said in an on-court interview after his first competitive set since Wimbledon last year.
“I can’t stop laughing outside and inside. It’s a great joy, I love this sport, it’s a great passion of mine so I missed it.
“I wasn’t that nervous, although I had that matchplay attitude … I wanted to be back on court, unfortunately the elbow wouldn’t let me last week.”
The 30-year-old, who won the year’s first grand slam five times in six years until 2016, did not have it all his own way in a tighter second set and it went with serve to 5-4 when Djokovic broke again to wrap up the victory in 42 minutes.
Now ranked 14th in the world after his long absence, the 12-times grand slam singles champion will be one to avoid in Thursday’s draw for the Australian Open.
“This has been a tough period for me, obviously injury is the greatest enemy a professional athlete can have,” the Serbian added.
“You can’t do anything about it except try to recover as quickly as you can.
“The Australian Open is the big one, it’s the one I wanted to be ready for. It’s a great start.”
Another former grand slam champion, Marin Cilic, did not have such a good day at the former venue of the Australian Open with the Croatian world number six losing 6-7(3) 6-4 7-5 to Australian Matthew Ebden.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford)