Rock-solid start for Novak Djokovic in return to tennis

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Ten minutes before his return to Grand Slam action after six months away, Novak Djokovic was in the locker room area stretching. And stretching some more.

Not his elastic legs, which have been so instrumental in helping him to 12 Grand Slam titles, but his right elbow, the offending limb that inconveniently broke down last summer and forced him off the tour after Wimbledon.

As Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek, Djokovic's coaching team, looked on, while the Serb flexed his elbow with a rope, over his head and side to side, time after time as he completed the final preparations for his much-anticipated return.

And what a return. His 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 win against Donald Young was as routine as it sounds, a convincing debut here and a statement of intent. But beforehand, Djokovic, 30, wasn't sure how his elbow would hold up or his overall game would fare in his first true test since last June.

"It felt great to be back on the court and compete again," he said. "It's been a while. Obviously, you don't know how you're going to start off. The first two sets went extremely well, considering that I haven't played for six months. The third was up and down a little bit, but in general, it was a great performance."

If there were nerves, they were not obvious as Djokovic ripped through the first two sets. Even his new serve, with an abbreviated take-back designed to protect the elbow, held up well. His stats were good, dropping serve just once, and he never allowed Young, the world No 63, any chance to really believe he might win.

"Second serve was very, very good," Djokovic said. "First serve was kind of up and down. When you come back after a long time and you play [your] first match, obviously all the things are a bit exaggerated -- whatever is not working well.

"All in all, I'm quite pleased. I know that it's going to take a little bit of time for me to kind of work my way in and get used to the specific changes that I've made in my service motion. It wasn't ideal, but it was still good. I'm looking forward to work on it more. I hope to improve in this aspect."

Last year, Roger Federer came off a six-month injury absence to win the title. It is asking a lot for Djokovic, whose game is based around consistency rather than aggression, to do the same.

But if his elbow holds up well, and there is no pain, then expect him to improve by the round. When you are a champion, you don't forget how to play.