Novak Djokovic returned to grand slam tennis and immediately looked a potential Australian Open title contender in a straightforward win over Donald Young.

The former world number one was playing his first official match since retiring during his Wimbledon quarter-final against Tomas Berdych last year with elbow problems that forced him to miss the rest of the season.

When Djokovic pulled out of warm-up tournaments in Abu Dhabi and Doha because of pain in his right elbow, there were doubts over whether he would be fit enough to play at Melbourne Park, where he shares the record of six titles with Roy Emerson.

The man himself was cautious about his fitness on the eve of the tournament and wore a compression sleeve but there were no signs of rust as he eased to a 6-1 6-2 6-4 victory over American Young.

Djokovic, who next faces Gael Monfils, said: “I did have various emotions, mostly good ones: excitement, joy, gratitude for being able to have an opportunity to compete. About three weeks ago, I didn’t know whether I’m going to play Australia or not.

“I did feel nerves and I did feel a bit sceptical whether I’m going to be able to continue playing as well as I have the last couple of weeks in the practice sessions.

There was joy and relief for Novak Djokovic after he came through his opening test with flying coloursThere was joy and relief for Novak Djokovic after he came through his opening test with flying colours (Dita Alangkara/AP)

“But I thought I controlled it well. I didn’t get carried away by anything, even though a couple of times in the match things could have maybe gone a different way. I just didn’t allow it to happen. It was a very, very solid performance.”

Djokovic has remodelled his service action with the help of coaches Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek, shortening the back swing in a bid to protect the elbow, and it held up very well.

There were even greater doubts over Stan Wawrinka, who has also been sidelined since Wimbledon following knee surgery and only decided on Saturday that he would play in the tournament.

Wawrinka argued neither his game nor his fitness were anywhere near where he would want them to be but he battled well to beat Ricardas Berankis 6-3 6-4 2-6 7-6 (7/2).

The ninth seed is still feeling pain in his knee but said: “It’s great to be back. It’s great to win, for sure. It was a tough one in all aspects. But I’m really happy to get through a match like that, to fight the way I did today.”

Having been in Djokovic and Wawrinka’s position last year, when he was returning from six months out with knee problems, Roger Federer knows exactly how the duo are feeling.

The second seed, of course, went on to win the most remarkable of his 19 grand slam titles and began the defence of his crown with a comfortable 6-3 6-4 6-3 victory over Aljaz Bedene, who is representing Slovenia again after nearly three years as a British player.

Federer admitted he fears he is in for disappointment this year after the supreme high of 12 months ago, when he defeated Rafael Nadal in an epic five-set final.

The 36-year-old said: “Last year was so good I’m just worried I know it won’t be. Guys are coming back, Rafa seems to be in tip-top shape. But last year will always be in the vault.”

There was less good news for the other former top-three player returning from injury, with 22nd seed Milos Raonic beaten 6-7 (5/7) 7-5 6-4 7-6 (7/4) by Lukas Lacko.

Fourth seed Alexander Zverev was tested by Thomas Fabbiano but did not drop a set in a 6-1 7-6 (7/5) 7-5 victory while Tomas Berdych had too much experience for 18-year-old Australian sensation Alex De Minaur, winning 6-3 3-6 6-0 6-1.

On a generally straightforward day for the leading names, there were also wins for Dominic Thiem, David Goffin and Juan Martin del Potro.