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 on Rod Laver Arena.
Makes my heart full to see the crowd in the stadium again," Djokovic said in post-match interview at the 15,000-seat 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 Monday 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 state government is allowing up to 30,000 people per day into Melbourne Park, about 50% of capacity. There were no fans allowed at the U.S. 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 now it's outside the summer holidays 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.
As she left the court she flexed her biceps, and later donned a T-shirt that read Unstoppable Queen.
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.
U.S. 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 Australian wild-card entry 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 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu, who returned from 15 months on the sidelines to beat Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. Rebecca Marino, a former top-40 player competing in a Grand Slam event for the first time in eight years, beat Kimberly Birrell 6-0, 7-6 (9).
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 and just the sixth player in her 40s to compete at the Australian Open.
Two weeks in hard lockdown didn't help 2016 Australian Open winner Angelique Kerber, who lost to Bernarda Pera.
U.S. 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 Novak 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 racket into the court. Letting off a little steam worked for the U.S. Open finalist, who recovered to beat No. 73-ranked Marcos Giron 6-7 (8), 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-2.
Also advancing were No. 14 Milos Raonic, former champion Stan Wawrinka and Americans Reilly Opelka, Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe, who next play Djokovic.
No. 10-seeded Gael Monfils lost a marathon against Emil Ruusuvuori 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 in a teary, early exit.
Williams' inspiration was clear when she started her match.
Griffith Joyner was a sprinting and fashion icon in the 1980s, setting world records that still stand for the women's 100- and 200-meter sprints. She died in 1998, the same year Serena Williams contested her first Australian Open.
Yeah, I was inspired by Flo-Jo, who was a wonderful track athlete, amazing athlete when I was growing up, Williams said. Well, watching her fashion, just always changing, her outfits were always amazing.
This year we thought of what can we do to keep elevating the Serena Williams on the court.
Djokovic's inspiration was the crowd. He told them he had an ongoing love affair with this court.
The usually packed walkways between courts also were relatively deserted during the day. Sanitizer stations had replaced the giant misting fans that used to keep fans cool on the grounds not that they were needed on a cloudy, mild day.
The crowd grew as workers headed in from downtown for a night session.
First match, night session, very special," Djokovic said.
I'm just really glad we are free. We're playing tennis. I'm really glad we're back in Australia. It's a happy place for us. Happy Slam. That's all.
(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)