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Djokovic ready to eagerly await Australian Open return

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Novak Djokovic is eagerly awaiting his return to the Australian Open on Tuesday, with women’s world No. 2 Ance Gabriel also starting to battle for the title.

Serbia’s Djokovic, one of the best men’s tennis players of all time, was expelled last year on the eve of a Grand Slam tournament at Melbourne Park over his stance on a Covid vaccine.

But the 35-year-old will return to face Spain’s Roberto Cabales Baena in the opener and looks likely to be well received by the Rod Laver Arena crowd.

He is aiming to win the Australian Open for a 10th time and tie defending champion Rafael Nadal’s men’s all-time record of 22 Grand Slam titles.

Djokovic is a favorite for the first Grand Slam of the year but has been plagued by a minor hamstring injury after winning a warm-up match in Adelaide last week.

He was photographed training Monday with a heavy strap on his left thigh.

“I always like my chances. I train as hard as everybody else,” Djokovic said ahead of the opener, trying to dispel hamstring concerns.

“There are a lot of young people out there who are very hungry and want to win. They want to scalp you on big pitches. I know that.

“But I think the experience of being in this particular situation helps me take the right approach and do things the right way.”

Former world number one and three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray will try to turn back the years.

The 35-year-old Briton will face Italian 13th seed Matteo Berrettini at Melbourne Park the next day.

Norway’s second seed Kasparud, fifth seed Andriy Rublev and 12th seed Alexander Zverev are also in the game.

Rublev of Russia takes on 2020 Australian Open finalist Dominic Thiem.

Also in action is Denmark’s exciting teenager Holger Rune, the ninth seed.

There were no big shocks on the first day, as Nadal began defending his crown with a four-set win over promising Briton Jack Draper.

Monday’s race kicked off under cool, cloudy skies, but temperatures picked up during the day, with a scorching 36C (97F) expected on Tuesday.

Women’s fifth-seeded Belarusian Alina Sabalenka will file her case against Teresa Martinkova of the Czech Republic.

At the adjacent Marguerite Court Arena, two-time Grand Slam champion from Spain and 2020 Melbourne finalist Garbin Muguruza will play Belgium’s 26th seed Elise Mertens. A fun game.

Tunisia’s Jabr, who was runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open last year, started her breakthrough Grand Slam debut against Slovenia’s Tamarazi Dansek.

Other women’s seeders competing on Tuesday include France’s Caroline Garcia and in-form Olympic champion Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, who won the Adelaide warm-up three days earlier, Return to the top ten in the world.

Russian duo Veronika Kudermetova (ninth seed) and Daria Kasatkina (eighth seed) also started their campaign.

Djokovic will end the day at the Rod Laver Arena against No. 75 Caballes Baena.

bur-pst/dh



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