Novak Djokovic couldn’t stop smiling as he made his long-awaited return to tennis from injury.
And his performance gave him plenty of reasons to be happy, with the six-time Australian Open champion making a statement with a 6-1 6-4 win over world No.5 Dominic Thiem.
The exhibition match at Kooyong was his first match in more than six months as Djokovic hadn’t played since Wimbledon in July, and he showed no signs of the elbow injury that also forced his withdrawal from Doha last week.
“I can’t stop smiling on the outside and on the inside, it’s such a great joy and I’ve missed it,” Djokovic said.
The former world No.1 was thrilled with his comeback, particularly his serve which had been most affected by the chronic injury.
Wearing a full-arm sleeve, Djokovic was able to serve at full pace against Thiem, who was suffering the after-affects of a virus and jet-lag.
“It was a fantastic test for me to see where I am, to see what we have done as a team and whether it works on the court and it works pretty well,” Djokovic said.
“Especially the serve – that was the biggest question mark because of the elbow, that shot in my game was compromised.
“I don’t want to be over-confident but I’m very, very happy with the way it went today.”
Djokovic is set to have another hit-out at Kooyong on Friday, as well as taking part in the Tie-break Tens in Melbourne, alongside world No.1 Rafael Nadal and top-ranked Australian Nick Kyrgios.
Djokovic buoyed to beat his ‘greatest enemy’
He conceded his preparation for the first grand slam of the year wasn’t ideal but he felt it would be enough.
“It’s the first time in my career that I’ve had such a long break,” said Djokovic, who has slipped to world No.14.
“It would be ideal if I got another tournament under my belt before the Australian Open but my elbow wasn’t ready but I’m going to take whatever I can.”
The Serbian star said there was real doubt he could play in the Open after pulling out of the Doha tournament and also an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen but we did some treatments and gave it a lot of thought and luckily for me I’m here.
“l’m hoping in the next four or five days everything will go well and I’ll be ready for the Open.
“For now I’m in the tournament and let’s hope with God’s grace everything will be fine in the next five days.”