x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Australian Open: Djokovic, Williams and Sharapova ease past first round

Novak Djokovic started his bid for Australian Open history in emphatic fashion as the opening day's play in Melbourne sprang few surprises.

Maria Sharapova makes short work of opponent Olga Puchkova at the Australian Open in Melbourne.
Maria Sharapova makes short work of opponent Olga Puchkova at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Novak Djokovic's bid for history at the Australian Open started impressively this morning as the world number one swept aside the challenge of Paul-Henri Mathieu.

Djokovic, aiming to become the first man in the Open era to win three successive titles in Melbourne, looked in ominous form with an entertaining 6-2 6-4 7-5 win over the experienced Frenchman.

There were also wins on day one for seeds Tomas Berdych, Nicolas Almagro, Stanislas Warwinka and Kei Nishikori.

Mathieu, a former top-12 player, held his own for much of the second and third sets but Djokovic always appeared in control on his first competitive appearance at the Rod Laver Arena since his thrilling near six-hour final win over Rafael Nadal last year.

The Serbian, coming into the game on the back of his win in the Mubadala World Championship in Abu Dhabi, set the tone in the opening game by breaking and claimed the Mathieu serve once again courtesy of a stunning backhand pass to establish a 4-1 first-set advantage.

He duly saw out the set and then broke again to open the second.

Mathieu threatened an immediate response but some booming serves from Djokovic enabled him to escape from 0-40.

Serve held sway for the rest of the set as it did in the third until Djokovic upped his level with a series of stunning winners to take a 6-5 lead.

From there, there was no way back for Mathieu as Djokovic advanced to a meeting with American Ryan Harrison.

"This is by far my most successful court in my grand slam career," he said afterwards.

"Twelve months ago I played a six-hour final here so it's amazing to be back."

Spain's fourth seed David Ferrer, coming off a career-best season, eased past Belgian Olivier Rochus into the second round.

Ferrer, elevated to number four seed following the withdrawal of last year's finalist Rafael Nadal, had few problems putting away the 126th-ranked Belgian, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in 1hr 50min on Hisense Arena.

Czech Berdych, seeded five in Melbourne, enjoyed a routine 6-3 7-5 6-3 win over Michael Russell but Almagro was pushed all the way by American qualifier Steve Johnson.

Johnson matched the 10th-seeded Spaniard for much of their three hour, 10 minute-encounter before Almagro's greater experience proved key in his 7-5 6-7 (4/7) 6-2 6-7 (6/8) 6-2 victory.

Wawrinka beat German Cedrik-Marcel Stebe in straight sets while Nishikori hit back from dropping the opener to see off Victor Hanescu.

However, 11th seed Juan Monaco was the first big name to fall after being beaten 7-6 6-1 6-1 by Andrey Kuznetsov - ranked 79th in the world.

Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams remained on course for a third-round shoot-out after registering emphatic wins.

In an opening session free of shocks, Sharapova and Williams were the first women to advance after dropping just a solitary game between them in seeing off Olga Puchkova and Galina Voskoboeva respectively.

Sharapova came into the tournament under a fitness cloud after damaging a collarbone just before Christmas while Williams arrived in Melbourne having won her last event - in Luxembourg in October, her first singles title in almost three years - after a long battle with injury and illness.

Their brief court appearances allowed little time for in-depth evaluation but both were happy with their performances.

Sharapova, who 'double-bageled' Russian countrywoman Puchkova, said: "After a couple of close games I started to concentrate a bit better.

"I didn't want to focus on the fact I hadn't played a lot of matches but just focus on what was ahead of me and really be aggressive.

"Today was a good score line."

Although she didn't drop a game, Sharapova insisted there was still room for improvement.

"It's tough to feel completely satisfied," she said.

"You always want to improve on things and work on certain things that you feel will help you in the later rounds towards the end of the second week.

"But overall I was happy with the way I started considering I didn't play any matches coming in."

Williams was pleased to have negotiated the first hurdle with the minimum of fuss.

The American said: "It's nice to spend less time on court and not be in long sets.

"A win is a win no matter what it is, but it's nice when it's more routine."

British number one Heather Watson was made to dig deep before overcoming Alexandra Cadantu and securing a place in the second round of the Australian Open.

For a set and a half, Watson was second best in a low-quality encounter not helped by the blustery conditions on court 13.

But after both players were treated by medical staff during a lengthy stoppage, the 20-year-old from Guernsey appeared revitalised, cruising through the remainder of the match to go through 2-6 6-3 6-2 to advance to a meeting with either Mona Barthel or Ksenia Pervak.

There were also wins today for in-form fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, sixth seed Li Na and home favourite Sam Stosur.

Radwanska, the winner of the warm-up events in Auckland and Sydney, looked in danger of dropping her first set of 2013 when Australian wild card Bojana Bobusic served for the opener at 5-4 but the Pole upped her level and rattled off the next nine games to go through 7-5 6-0.

Stosur was made to work hard on home soil to overcome Chang Kai-Chen of Chinese Taipei.

Ninth seed Stosur has only managed to reach the fourth round of her home grand slam and had her nervy moments once again before securing a 7-6 (7/3) 6-3 triumph.

Li, who complained of tiredness in the lead-up to Melbourne, was also in fine form against Karatantcheva to set up a second round clash with either France's Pauline Parmentier or Olga Govortsova of Belarus.

The 2011 French Open winner seized control by breaking for 3-1 and then 5-1 to take the opening set with ease.

Karatantcheva made her work harder for the second set but her resistance ultimately proved futile as Li sealed her progression with a forehand winner.

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