WASHINGTON, January 15, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
When six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic returns to action on Tuesday for the first time following a six-month hiatus due to an elbow injury, fans will immediately notice a new service motion. Although the 30-year-old Serbian admits his elbow is not totally healed, Djokovic received assurances from his doctors that he wouldn’t be causing any additional damage to his elbow by playing in the AO. With the help of his coaches, Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek, Djokovic will rely on a new service motion when he faces 63rd-ranked American Donald Young on Margaret Court Arena in the first round. It’s designed to be more efficient while putting less pressure on his injured joint.
During his practices at Melbourne Park over the weekend, Djokovic could be seen sporting a flesh-colored sleeve to protect his elbow.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) 15. Januar 2018
When he met with reporters on Saturday, the 14th-seeded Djokovic who is eager to win his seventh AO title said he was happy with the new motion. “You know, new service motion. I don’t want to say ‘new serve,’ but new service motion.
“Some corrections, I guess, some improvements to the technique, which I think are allowing me to be more efficient with the serve, but also allowing me to release the load from the elbow, which is obviously something that I have to do because I have that injury,” he said.
Asked what Djokovic’s expectations might be, Tennis Channel analyst Jim Courier said, “It’s hard to say. He’s in good spirits and he’s going to give it a go, but it’s hard to say exactly where he’s going to be. The one thing everyone’s concerned with is his serving motion. Changing one’s service motion is a very dramatic thing for a player of any caliber to try to do. Then, to bring it into competition at a Grand Slam tournament straight away without any official matches is really challenging.”
News and notes:
• U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, riding a seven-match losing streak since winning her first Grand Slam, was serving for the win, up a set and ahead 5-4 in the second set on Margaret Court Arena against Zhang Shuai. However, the 13th-seeded Stephens, a former AO semifinalist, couldn’t close out her opponent and lost the second-set in a tie-break, 7-2. Then, Zhang came out determined in the final set and won it and the match, 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2. Stephens, whose Grand Slam win streak was snapped at seven, is the latest in a long list of first-time Grand Slam champions who generally falter in their next Slam.
“This court is really special for me. When I came back here to warmup I was feeling so excited. So I think I was ready today,” said Zhang, a former AO quarterfinalist, after her win Monday. “So I think I was ready today. I always play against great players on this court. I was very happy to play her.”
• Julia Goerges won her 15th straight match with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Sofia Kenin to set up a second-round match against Alize Cornet, who beat Wang Xinyu, 6-4, 6-2.
• In a battle of current and past French Open champions, No. 7 seed Jelena Ostapenko beat Francesca Sciavone, 6-1, 6-4, in the opening match on Rod Laver Arena for her first win of the year. Sciavone was fashionably sporting a back brace worn over her tennis outfit.
• Duan Ying-Ying dropped just one game to Mariana Duque and was the first woman through to the second round, winning 6-0, 6-1.
• Kirsten Flipkens fought off Alison Riske, who served for the win at 6-5 in the second set, and pulled out a 2-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3 win.
• Kaia Kanepi advanced to the second round by beating No. 24 Dominika Cibulkova, 6-2, 6-2.
What they’re tweeting:
• Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim on Sciavone: “Applaud the Italian (born within a week of Venus) whose career, sadly, is an hourglass low on sands.”
• Christopher Clarey of The New York Times, on Sciavone wearing a back brace over her tennis attire: “Don’t think this one will be a fashion trend setter even though she’s Italian.”
• ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert, asked if he thought Dennis Shapovalov, Jack Sock or Nick Kyrgios could go deep in the men’s draw: “Liking Cheerios Kyrgios.”
• WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen: “This is Belinda (Bencic) back to playing great tennis. This is a better Bencic. Serve, movement, forehand all look much improved and the surgery-affected backhand solid.”
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.