Novak Djokovic marked his grand slam return with a thoroughly convincing win over Donald Young in the opening round of the Australian Open.
The former world number one was playing his first official match since retiring during his Wimbledon quarter-final against Tomas Berdych last year with elbow problems that forced him to miss the rest of the season.
When Djokovic pulled out of warm-up tournaments in Abu Dhabi and Doha because of pain in his right elbow, there were doubts over whether he would be fit enough to play at Melbourne Park, where he shares the record of six titles with Roy Emerson.
The man himself was cautious about his fitness on the eve of the tournament and wore a compression sleeve but there were no signs of rust as he eased to a 6-1 6-2 6-4 victory over American Young.
Djokovic has remodelled his service action with the help of coaches Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek, shortening the back swing in a bid to protect the elbow, and it held up very well.
Young broke serve to avoid losing the second set to love but overall Djokovic won more than 70 per cent of points on his serve, and the Serbian’s returning game was very sharp, too.
When a final Young shot drifted well wide, Djokovic beamed and held his arms aloft before kissing the court.
He said: “It feels so great to be back here, so great to be back on the tennis court. There’s no better place for me to be playing after six months than here in Australia.
“A month ago I didn’t know if I was going to come to Australia or not because the elbow was still not prepared for this level of competition.”
There were even greater doubts over Stan Wawrinka, who has also been sidelined since Wimbledon following knee surgery and only decided on Saturday that he would play in the tournament.
Wawrinka argued neither his game nor his fitness were anywhere near where he would want them to be but he battled well to beat Ricardas Berankis 6-3 6-4 2-6 7-6 (7/2).
Fourth seed Alexander Zverev was tested by Thomas Fabbiano but did not drop a set in a 6-1 7-6 (7/5) 7-5 victory but 22nd seed Milos Raonic was beaten 6-7 (5/7) 7-5 6-4 7-6 (7/4) by Lukas Lacko.
Raonic, a semi-finalist and quarter-finalist in the last two years, was another player coming back from an injury-ravaged 2017 but, unlike Djokovic and Wawrinka, he was unable to find a way through.
Dark horse David Goffin looked to be in trouble at a set and a break down against Matthias Bachinger but recovered to win 6-7 (3/7) 6-3 6-2 6-4.