Novak Djokovic enjoyed a rousing reception on a winning return to the Australian Open on Tuesday and Andy Murray rolled back the years to stun Matteo Berrettini in a classic.
On a day of bans on Russian flags and weather-induced disruption, two of the sport’s biggest names belatedly brought the focus back on tennis in Melbourne.
A heavy title favourite, the 35-year-old Djokovic was back after his deportation last year because of his stance on Covid vaccines.
If the Serb was worried about how he might be received by the Melbourne Park crowd, he needn’t have been – the nine-time Australian Open champion walked out to loud cheers.
Against the backdrop of chants of “Nole”, Djokovic sent Spain’s 75th-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena packing at Rod Laver Arena, 6-3, 6-4, 6-0, to surge into round two.
“Thank you for giving me such a welcoming reception that I could only dream of,” said Djokovic, who is chasing a record-equalling 22nd major title.
“I feel really happy that I’m back here in Australia and on the court where I have had the biggest success in my career.”
Prior to that, the day had belonged to another 35-year-old in Murray – and Melbourne’s famously fickle weather.
The Briton saved match point to defeat Italy’s 13th seed Berrettini 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (7/9), 7-6 (10/6) in 4hrs 49mins at Rod Laver Arena, where the roof was closed because of the extreme heat.
“I will be feeling this this evening and tomorrow,” said the former world number one, who plays with a metal hip after career-saving surgery.
“But right now unbelievably happy and proud of myself.”
It was Murray’s first victory over a top 20 player at a Grand Slam since defeating ninth-ranked Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals of the 2017 French Open.
Victory also brought up his 50th Australian Open match-win, becoming only the fifth man in the Open Era to achieve the feat alongside Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Stefan Edberg.
Coached by Ivan Lendl, who won the Melbourne Park title in 1989 and 1990, Murray broke once in the first set and twice in the second as the Italian struggled on his second serve while making a slew of unforced errors.
But Berrettini rallied in the third set with a break to move 3-2 clear and helped by six aces took it to a fourth set.
Nothing separated them and it went to a seesawing tiebreak that the Italian won on his third set point when Murray sent a forehand long.
Berrettini earned a match point 5-4 in the fifth, but netted an easy half-volley to waste the opportunity and it again went to a tiebreak where an early break for Murray gave him the edge and he clung on.
Also in the men’s draw, Norwegian second seed Casper Ruud battled through to the second round with a 6-3, 7-6 (8/6), 6-7 (5/7), 6-3 defeat of Tomas Machac.
The match finished after 1:00 am.
“It’s been a long day,” said Ruud, after kicking off a campaign that could see him become world number one.
Earlier, Russia’s fifth seed Andrey Rublev ended the tournament of 2020 finalist Dominic Thiem 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 Fahrenheit) temperatures.
As the mercury rose, the heat forced play to be halted on outside courts. The roofs were closed on the three main stadiums: Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and John Cain Arena.
Play resumed on the outside courts about three hours later, only to be disrupted again in the evening when a storm hit, dumping torrential rain that eventually saw some matches suspended for the day.
Eighth-seeded Taylor Fritz, 12th seed Alexander Zverev and ninth seed Holger Rune all rolled into the next round.