Novak Djokovic in action against Mitchell Krueger of the US at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, January 15 2019. Picture: REUTERS/LUCY NICHOLSON
Novak Djokovic in action against Mitchell Krueger of the US at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, January 15 2019. Picture: REUTERS/LUCY NICHOLSON

Top seed Novak Djokovic looked every inch the Australian Open favourite as he kicked off his bid for a record seventh title at Melbourne Park with an emphatic 6-3 6-2 6-2 win over American qualifier Mitchell Krueger on Tuesday.

Soaking up the Rod Laver Arena limelight, the Serb moved superbly in his opener and hit 42 winners to wrap up a one-sided clash in just over two hours.

Djokovic bowed out of the fourth round of the 2018 tournament bothered by a painful elbow injury but successfully came back from surgery to win Wimbledon and the US Open.

Now free from fitness problems, the 31-year-old Serb is savouring his return to a tournament he has virtually owned for the past decade.

“It feels great to be healthy and back on this court again,”t he 14-times Grand Slam champion told Reuters.

“Twelve months ago it was quite a different sensation on the court with the elbow injury. Twelve months forward, obviously things are quite different. Hopefully I can follow up on this victory tonight with a good performance,” he said.

Despite the scoreline, the 230th-ranked Krueger hardly disgraced himself and broke Djokovic in the third game of the first set. That was as good as it got for the American, as the Serb knuckled down to break right back coasting to an easy victory.

Hip injury

Djokovic watched injured big four rival Andy Murray bow out of the first round in a gallant fiveset defeat by Spanish 22nd seed Roberto Bautista Agut.

He paid tribute to the threetimes Grand Slam champion.

“After two sets, I think no-one expected him to really come back, considering how he feels,” Djokovic said of Murray’s painful right hip.

“He showed once again his amazing champion spirit, why he’s such a fighter, why he’s so respected and appreciated around the tennis world and sports world in general.”

Djokovic will next meet French wildcard Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the man he beat for the 2008 trophy and his first Grand Slam title at the age of 20.

“It’s funny, I mean, 11 years after our first Grand Slam final here; it feels like a lot has happened for both of us,” added Djokovic. “He also struggled with injuries lately. It’s good to see him playing well. It’s good to see him back.”

● In the women’s section Worl No 1 Simona Halep admitted she was struggling for form after narrowly surviving a first-round scare, saying she had “no expect at io n s ” about how far she can go at this opening Grand Slam.

The Romanian had to dig deep for a come-from-behind win against Kaia Kanepi, the unseeded Estonian who dumped her from the 2018 US Open first round.

Halep said she was proud of the fight she showed in grinding out a 6-7 (2/7) 6-4 6-2 victory, but conceded that it was not the type of performance expected of the top seed and French Open champion.

“I’m just happy that I could win,” she said. “Nothing else matters because I’m not at the highest level of my tennis.

“I’m just trying to feel good on court and to improve day by day,” said Halep.

Japan’s Naomi Osaka clubbed her way into the second round beating Poland’s Magda Linette 6-4 6-2. It was Osaka’s first Grand Slam match since her breakthrough US Open triumph in 2018 Osaka’s heavy ball striking makes it very difficult for opponents to trade blows with her.

“I’m aware of people saying anyone in the top 10 can be No 1 right now, but for me that’s not really my goal,” Osaka, the fourth seed, said.

“I just want to play well in this tournament,” she said.

● After a gruelling qualifying schedule SA’s Lloyd Harris had no answers in the first round of the Australian Open‚ crashing out to Russian Daniil Medvedev in straight sets on Tuesday.

The 15th-seeded Medvedev thrashed the 21-year-old Capetonian 6-1 6-2 6-1 in a matter of just 1hr 47min.

It leaves No 5 seed Kevin Anderson as the only South African left in the singles draw.

Raven Klaasen though‚ with Kiwi partner Michael Venus‚ are the No 6 seeds in the men’s doubles‚ which starts on Wednesday this week.

Harris‚ the world No 119, gave a nervy performance in only his second appearance at a Grand Slam‚ producing as much as 39 unforced errors against the 13 from Medvedev.

Harris also struggled on serve and only won seven of 28 (25%) points on his second serve‚ which gave the Russian an easy ride through the match.

Reuters, additional reporting Craig Ray