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Novak braces for Aussie Open return

MELBOURNE, Australia (AFP) — Novak Djokovic makes his eagerly anticipated return to the Australian Open on Tuesday and women’s world No. 2 Ons Jabeur will also launch her title bid.

Djokovic, one of the finest men’s tennis players of all time, was deported on the eve of last year’s Grand Slam at Melbourne Park because of his stance on Covid vaccines.

But the 35-year-old will be back when he faces Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain in his opener and looks likely to be given a warm reception by the Rod Laver Arena crowd.

He is bidding to win the Australian Open for a record-extending 10th time and in doing so tie defending champion Rafael Nadal’s men’s all-time record of 22 Grand Slam crowns.

Djokovic is hot favorite for the first Grand Slam of the year, but after winning an Adelaide warm-up tournament last week, he has been bothered by a slight hamstring injury.
He was pictured practicing on Monday with heavy strapping around his left thigh.

“I always like my chances. I train as hard as really anybody out there,” Djokovic said ahead of his opener, attempting to dispel concerns about his hamstring.

“There’s a lot of youngsters now that are very hungry, that want to win. They want to take a scalp off you in the big stadium. I know that.”

“But experience of being in these kinds of particular circumstances helps I think to have the right approach and do things in a proper way.”

Former world No. 1 and three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray will attempt to roll back the years.

The 35-year-old Briton faces Italian 13th seed Matteo Berrettini in a tantalizing match on day two at Melbourne Park.

Second seed Casper Ruud of Norway, fifth seed Andrey Rublev and 12th seed Alexander Zverev are also in action.

Russia’s Rublev takes on Dominic Thiem, the 2020 Australian Open finalist.

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

There were no major shocks on the first day, with Nadal grinding down promising Briton Jack Draper in four sets to launch the defense of his crown.

Monday’s play began under cool overcast skies but the mercury rose during the day and is expected to hit a sweltering 36 Celsius (97 Fahrenheit) on Tuesday.

Women’s fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus will open proceedings on the main Rod Laver Arena against Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic.

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