Djokovic back with a bang

Djokovic back with a bang

Djokovic back with a bang

Novak Djokovic returned to competitive tennis with a bang on Wednesday, bringing a six-month spell on the sidelines to an end with a thumping 6-1, 6-4 win over world number five Dominic Thiem at the Kooyong Classic exhibition tournament.

Six-times Australian Open champion Djokovic pulled out of a tournament in Abu Dhabi last week because of continuing problems with his right elbow and wore a sleeve over the joint during his round robin match against the Austrian.

In a huge boost for Melbourne Park organisers, who have already lost Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori to injury, Djokovic showed no obvious discomfort as he broke Thiem three times to win the first set in just 21 minutes.

"It was a great start, it feels really good to be back on the court," a beaming Djokovic said in an on-court interview after his first competitive set since Wimbledon last year.

"I can't stop laughing outside and inside. It's a great joy, I love this sport, it's a great passion of mine so I missed it.

Now ranked 14th in the world after his long absence, the 12-times Grand Slam singles champion will be one to avoid in Thursday's draw for the Australian Open.

"This has been a tough period for me, obviously injury is the greatest enemy a professional athlete can have," the Serbian added.

"The Australian Open is the big one, it's the one I wanted to be ready for. It's a great start."

Another former Grand Slam champion, Marin Cilic, did not have such a good day at the former venue of the Australian Open with the Croatian world number six losing 6-7(3) 6-4 7-5 to Australian Matthew Ebden.  

Sabalenka upsets Zhang  

Belarus teen Aryna Sabalenka blasted top seed Zhang Shuai out of the Hobart International on Wednesday while former champion Heather Watson had a smooth ride to the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 6-2 win over wildcard Jaimee Fourlis.

Big-hitting Sabalenka had felled former world number five Eugenie Bouchard in the first round and the Belarusian's aggressive strategy paid dividends again as she triumphed 7-6 (3), 6-4.

Briton Watson had little difficulty in beating Australian Fourlis, a victory which moves the 2015 champion into a quarterfinal against Donna Vekic, and Alison Riske also advanced after Belgian qualifier Kirsten Flipkens pulled out with a right shoulder injury.  

Del Potro wins

Argentine Juan Martin del Potro made a confident start to his preparations for the Australian Open with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Denis Shapovalov at the Auckland Classic on Wednesday.

Former US Open champion Del Potro hit eight aces to breeze past the 18-year-old Canadian, who hit 20 winners but committed 40 unforced errors.

The 29-year-old second seed, who won the tournament in 2009 in his last appearance, will now be the favourite after top-seeded American Jack Sock was bundled out by unheralded German Peter Gojowczyk.

Del Potro will next face Russian Karen Khachanov, who beat sixth-seeded Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas 6-2 7-6(4), in the last eight.

Defending champion Sock lost 6-3, 6-3 in only 61 minutes to his German opponent, who is ranked 65th in the world.

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