Federer and Djokovic take control in Melbourne
MELBOURNE: Flawless Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic stamped their mark on the Australian Open on Tuesday with focused former champion Maria Sharapova also successfully negotiating the first round after her drug ban.
Defending champion Federer, rated as favourite to win his 20th Grand Slam title, made his entrance on Rod Laver Arena with a sizzling 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 lesson for Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene.
The second seeded Swiss, who is coming off an extraordinary 2017, when he won a fifth Australian Open title and a record eighth at Wimbledon, was in total control.
“I was thinking a lot about what happened at the tournament last year because it was my favourite tournament of the whole season,” said the 36-year-old, who beat Rafael Nadal in the 2017 final.
“I’m hoping for it to go well again.”
Twelve-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic has been out of action for six months with an elbow injury, but he too looked the goods in his 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 demolition of American Donald Young.
Gunning for a seventh Australian Open title, he was glad to be back at the coal face, having missed the competitive edge.
“I wanted to start with the right intensity, which I have,” he told the cheering crowd afterwards.
“I played perfect tennis in the first couple of sets and Donald came back in the third set.”
Former Melbourne champion Stan Wawrinka also successfully returned from half a year on the sidelines after knee surgery, having only decided he was fit to play at the weekend.
With the temperatures heating up, he was pushed to four sets by Ricardas Berankis before prevailing 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7/2) in a tough workout he said was “proud” to come through.
World number one Simona Halep booked her place in round two, avoiding the first round exit that befell her in the past two years. But she made a meal of it against local hope Destanee Aiava.
Both the Romanian and her 17-year-old wildcard opponent needed on-court medical attention before the top seed ran out a battling 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 winner.
Third seeded Garbine Muguruza, with heavy strapping on her injured right thigh, made her tournament bow with a laboured 6-3, 6-3 win over French wildcard Jessika Ponchet.
Sharapova, still working her way back from a 15-month ban for taking the performance-enhancing substance meldonium in Australia in 2016, showed glimpses of the tennis that made her a five-time major winner.
The 2008 Melbourne Park champion, now ranked 48, beat Germany’s Tatjana Maria 6-1, 6-4 in her first Australian Open match in two years.
“I cherish these moments. I love it here,” said the Russian, who returned from her drugs ban in April last year.
“It’s been a couple of years and I wanted it to be really meaningful to me.”
Fellow former world number one Angelique Kerber, who won the tournament in 2016, was also impressive in dismissing Anna-Lena Friedsam 6-0, 6-4.
“2017, I have said goodbye already, I am not looking back,” she said after a forgettable last season that saw her relinquish the number one spot and slide down the rankings.
She is now on a 10-match win streak after a perfect early season.
Sixth seed Karolina Pliskova and eighth seed Caroline Garcia also progressed, in contrast to the other side of the draw that saw Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens and Coco Vandeweghe crash out on Monday.
American woes continued with Madison Brengle sent packing by British ninth seed Johanna Konta.
Young gun Alexander Zverev, seeded four, Belgian seventh seed David Goffin, and dark horse Tomas Berdych were among men to make the second round.
But Canada’s Milos Raonic, who has made at least the last eight over the past three years in Melbourne, was bundled out by 86th-ranked Slovakian Lukas Lacko in four sets.
It was his earliest Grand Slam exit in seven years as he fights back from a wrist injury.