Novak Djokovic is confident that he can step out on court at the Australian Open next week following his first competitive match in 181 days at the 2018 Priceline Pharmacy Kooyong Classic on Wednesday.
The 12-time Grand Slam winner convincingly defeated world No. 5 Dominic Thiem 6-1 6-4 in his first outing since retiring during the quarterfinals at Wimbledon last year due to a chronic elbow injury.
In other matches on day two of the tournament, Australian Matt Ebden defeated world No. 6 Marin Cilic in three sets, Swiss youngster Belinda Bencic overcame 16-year-old Wang Xinyu and Marcos Baghdatis edged 2017 US Open finalist Kevin Anderson.
Djokovic, wearing a compression sleeve on his right arm, looked relatively sharp against the Austrian, who has been battling his own preparation troubles before the Open with sickness.
“It feels great, obviously I was waiting for this moment for six months to play a match,” Djokovic told a large scrum of reporters after the match.
“Also, I got a great opponent today ranked five in the world, it was a fantastic test for me to see where I am, to see what we have done as a team in the off-season and whether it works on the court.
“It worked pretty well, especially the serve which was the biggest question mark because of the elbow, that shot in my game was compromised prior to July when I had to stop in Wimbledon.”
At this stage Djokovic will play at the opening Grand Slam of the season, one that he has won five times in the last seven years after claiming his first crown at Melbourne Park in 2008.
The former world No. 1 recently withdrew from events in Abu Dhabi and Qatar to concentrate on rehabbing the troublesome right elbow.
“I don’t want to be overconfident and obviously I’m very happy with the way it went today,” Djokovic added.
“But I don’t want to say it’s 100 per cent, I’ll say that when I start a tournament and I actually feel that it is 100 per cent.”
He will play a Tie Break Tens match tonight at Melbourne Park and is pencilled in to contest another match at Kooyong this week.
“Look I think it is (enough preparation),” Djokovic said.
“Obviously, it’s the first time in my career I’ve had such a long break and it would be ideal if I had another tournament under my belt before coming out to Australia, but I haven’t had a chance.
“But I’m going to take whatever I can.”
In the first match of the day, Ebden, the number two ranked Australian, played some commanding shots in the second set and then held it together in the third to beat the Croatian Cilic 6-7(3) 6-4 7-5 who featured in last season’s Wimbledon final.
Coming off a strong year that effectively started without a ranking due to an extended injury absence in 2016, Ebden made his first ATP Tour final in 2017 before claiming two Challenger titles last November.
“This is the kind of level I need to maintain every day and get across the line more often than not,” Ebden said after the match.
“It’s the key to win those close ones like today.
“This is still an event in its own right and there’s an unbelievable field here with Rafa and Novak, and Marin it’s great to be a part of it.
“That really high level is what I want to step up to, just keep improving and see how good I can get.”