Novak Djokovic opened his Australian Open title defense Monday with a 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 victory against Jeremy Chardy in the last match of the first-day program at Rod Laver Arena.
Djokovic is seeking a record ninth title in Melbourne, where there are stark differences compared to previous tournaments at the first Grand Slam of the year.
Be it mandatory face masks for all fans, quarantine codes on just about every visible surface or simply the absence of linespeople on court, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced all sorts of changes around the world.
The Melbourne Park grounds have been split into three “fan zones,” with hand-sanitizer stations proving to be more popular than the famed Aperol Spritz bar. The 15,000-seat Rod Laver Arena was about one-third full for Djokovic’s match, arguably the biggest crowd at a major tournament in a year (Wimbledon was off the calendar for 2020, while the US Open went without fans and fewer than 1,000 were allowed at the French Open). The state government is allowing up to 30,000 fans per day, but no court can be at more than 50% capacity.
“It’s great to see you back on the stadium. It makes me heart full,” Djokovic told the crowd in his postmatch on-court interview. “This is the most people I’ve seen on the tennis court in 12 months. I’m very grateful. There’s an ongoing love affair with me and this court, Rod Laver Arena. Let’s keep it going.”
Djokovic produced another Melbourne masterclass, winning 91 points to Chardy’s 52 and a staggering 86 percent of points when he landed his first serve. It was his 14th consecutive straight-set victory over Chardy.
He wrapped up a star-packed Day 1 on center court with Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Dominic Thiem and Simona Halep all easily advancing before Monday’s finale.
“Obviously it’s not a full crowd like I’m used to,” said Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam winner. “But at the same time, just to have any sort of crowd — playing in New York where there was no crowd — it’s definitely nice.”
Just about every seeded player advanced to the second round, as Venus Williams, Alexander Zverev, Petra Kvitova, Stan Wawrinka, Bianca Andreescu and Nick Kyrgios all won their openers. The only seeded American man, No. 27 Taylor Fritz, also advanced. The 23-year-old Californian got past Albert Ramos-Vinolas 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (6). It is the first time since 2015 that only one man from the U.S. was among the top 32 players in the field in Australia.
The highest-ranked players to fall Monday were 10th-seeded Frenchman Gael Monfils, who lost in five sets to unheralded Emil Ruusuvuori, while former Aussie Open champ Angelique Kerber was ousted 6-0, 6-4 to American Bernarda Pera.
Kerber cited her fortnight of hotel quarantine as the reason for her lack of form; she was one of 72 players who were forced to isolate in their Melbourne hotel rooms for two weeks after infections were reported on three charter flights to Melbourne. Players were not allowed to leave their rooms to train.
“I was not feeling the rhythm that I was before the two weeks, to be honest,” said Kerber. “I was really trying to stay positive, but you feel it, especially if you play the first match in a Grand Slam against an opponent who doesn’t stay in the hard lockdown.”
Rafael Nadal and hometown favorite Ashleigh Barty lead Day 2’s first-round schedule in Melbourne (coverage begins Monday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2, ESPN+ and the ESPN App).
ESPN reporter Jake Michaels and The Associated Press contributed to this report.