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February 9, 2021

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Djokovic wins amid crowd return

It’s been so long since he had a sizeable crowd to play for, the showman in Novak Djokovic just had to come out.

Top-ranked Djokovic has won eight titles at the Australian Open. He began his quest for a ninth with a clinical, 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Jeremy Chardy in the closing act of the day 1 program.

“Makes my heart full to see the crowd in the stadium again,” Djokovic said in post-match interview at the 15,000-seat Rod Laver Arena, which was about one-third full. “This is the most people I’ve seen on the tennis court in 12 months. I really ... I really, really appreciate your support in coming out tonight.”

The total crowd yesterday at Melbourne Park was 17,922, including day and night sessions in three divided zones. It was well down on the 64,387 fans that crammed onto the grounds on Day 1 of last year’s Australian Open, but way more than any other major since then.

After an austere year for tennis during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a unanimous refrain from players across the day, starting with Naomi Osaka in the opening match on Rod Laver, to Serena and Venus Williams, and to mercurial local favorite Nick Kyrgios, who closed the day on the so-called Peoples’ court: Thanks for coming.

The Victoria government is allowing up to 30,000 people per day into Melbourne Park, about 50 percent of capacity. There were no fans at the US Open, only about 1,000 per day were allowed at Roland Garros and Wimbledon was canceled.

But with the Australian Open starting three weeks later than usual and some people still nervous about going out in crowds following a harsh Melbourne lockdown last year, it was a predictably cautious start.

That wasn’t the case at all for Serena Williams, who arrived ready to race to start her bid for a record-equaling 24th Grand Slam singles title.

In a colorful one-legged catsuit she said was inspired by former Olympic champion Florence Griffith Joyner, Williams dropped her opening serve but rebounded to win 10 consecutive games and beat Laura Siegemund 6-1, 6-1.

“Vintage ‘Rena,” she said. There were no signs of the right shoulder issue that led her to withdraw from the semifinals of a tuneup tournament last week.

Speed was of the essence also for No. 2-ranked Simona Halep and No. 3 Osaka, who each only dropped three games.

US Open champion Osaka beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 6-2, and two-time major winner Halep opened the night session on the main show court with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Lizette Cabrera.

Joining them in the second round were No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, French Open winner Iga Swiatek and 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, who returned from 15 months on the sidelines to beat Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. Venus Williams, a seven-time major winner, won a Grand Slam match for the first time since 2019.

Playing in her 21st Australian Open, the elder Williams beat Kirsten Flipkens 7-5, 6-2. At 40, Venus is the oldest woman in this year’s draw.

US Open champion Dominic Thiem was a break down and saved set points before beating veteran Mikhail Kukushkin 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-3 in his first match at the tournament since losing last year’s final to Djokovic.

Alexander Zverev, who lost the final to Thiem in New York, lost the first set in a tiebreaker then lost his temper in the second and belted his racquet into the court. Letting off a little steam worked as he recovered to beat No. 73-ranked Marcos Giron 6-7 (8), 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-2.




 

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