Published — Tuesday 15 January 2013
Last update 15 January 2013 12:22 am
MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic served up only flashes of his best tennis on the opening day of the Australian Open but took a comfortable first step on the path he hopes will lead to an unprecedented hat trick of titles at Melbourne Park in two weeks’ time.
Perhaps keeping energy in reserve for the battles that lie ahead, the world number one’s workmanlike 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 victory over Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu yesterday summed up a day where the year’s first grand slam failed to really fire.
“It was a good performance for a first round,” said the top seed, who will play American Ryan Harrison in the second round.
“There are some few adjustments that I need to make and get a little bit sharper on the court. But it’s expected in the first match you’re still not a 100 percent on the court.” While Djokovic only roused himself when necessary, Maria Sharapova was ruthless as she swept aside any fears about her fitness with a thumping 6-0, 6-0 win over compatriot Olga Puchkova on Rod Laver Arena.
American Venus Williams enjoyed emphatic win to breeze into the second round, while in-form fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska extended her perfect start to the year to 10 matches.
Upsets are often the catalyst that jolt a tournament into life but Argentina’s Juan Monaco was the first seed to fall in the early evening and his 7-6, 6-1, 6-1 defeat was as much down to hand and leg injuries as Russian Andrey Kuznetsov.
Lleyton Hewitt did his best to produce another shock in front of a partisan night crowd but eighth seed Janko Tipsarevic brought a rapid end to the Australian’s 17th appearance at his home open with a 7-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory.
Serbian Djokovic only hit top gear twice in his match against Mathieu — when he faced three break points in the second set and again when the third set looked destined for a tiebreak.
On the first occasion he rustled up three aces to get himself out of trouble and on the second, he produced a couple of exceptional winners to break the Frenchman and set up victory in an hour and 42 minutes.
With Andy Murray and Roger Federer not beginning their campaigns until today and Rafa Nadal absent injured, yesterday was an opportunity for those players just outside the elite of the men’s game to strut their stuff.
David Ferrer duly continued the form which won him a fourth Auckland Open title on Saturday to beat Olivier Rochus 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, while fifth seed Tomas Berdych also progressed with a 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 win over American Michael Russell.
Williams could meet Sharapova in the third round and proved she might be a handful for the second seed by winning 12 successive games to beat Kazakh Galina Voskoboeva 6-1, 6-0.
It was 10 years ago that Williams lost her only Australian Open final to her sister Serena, who gets her campaign underway on Tuesday.
Pole Radwanska, winner of back-to-back warm-up events in Sydney and Auckland, battled through a tricky first set and whipped through the second to beat Australian wildcard Bojana Bobusic 7-5, 6-0.
Li lost to Radwanska in Sydney last week to end her own winning streak at eight matches, but the former French Open champion continued to thrive under the guidance of her new coach with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Sesil Karatantcheva.
“He’s not only a teacher about tennis, not only about technique, he’s also helping me get my mind stronger on court,” Li said of Justine Henin’s former mentor Carlos Rodriguez.
Mental fragility has contributed to Sam Stosur’s poor showings at her home grand slam and the ninth seed again failed to convince in a 7-6, 6-3 win over Chang Kai-chen of Taiwan.
to good start
Former finalist Li Na and Japan’s Kei Nishikori made encouraging starts as they kicked off their campaigns to become the Grand Slam tournament’s first Asian winners.
Li, revitalized under coach Carlos Rodriguez, made short work of Kazak outsider Sesil Karatantcheva, while Nishikori beat Romania’s Victor Hanescu to reach the second round.
Taiwanese qualifier Chan Yung-jan pulled off a huge upset when she beat Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova in three sets, although her compatriot Chang Kai-chen lost out to local favorite Samantha Stosur.
Elsewhere, Japan’s Misaki Doi beat Petra Martic to reach round two, and Zheng Jie won an all-Chinese match with Zhang Yuxuan.
However, Li remains the best bet for an Asian winner and she showed positive signs in a 6-1, 6-3 win over Karatantcheva, as she seeks to do better than runner-up in 2011 and fourth round last year.
“It’s always tough in the first round. You just come to the court 50/50. You never know whether you can beat her or you can lose. Everyone is the same,” said Li, who will play Belarus’s Olga Govortsova in the next round.
Nishikori eased worries over a knee injury, which forced him out of the Brisbane International when he came through in four sets against Hanescu, ranked 63.
The world No. 18, whose run to last year’s quarterfinals was the best ever Grand Slam performance by a Japanese man, will face Argentina’s Carlos Berlocq as his next opponent.
Tennis Australia is microblogging updates from the Australian Open on Chinese social media sites, and for the first time, a group of Chinese children are performing as ballboys and girls.
Meanwhile Somdev Devvarman, one of a group of Indian rebels who have made themselves unavailable for the Davis Cup in a dispute over conditions and prize money, surged into the second round with a straight-sets win over Bjorn Phau.
“I’ve been enjoying the dispute, speaking honestly,” Devvarman said. “It’s the first time in a long time that all the players on the Indian tennis scene, pretty much, are on really good terms with each other.”