Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 February 2020

Immaculate Roger Federer reaches Australian Open second round in style as weather causes more chaos

Roger Federer of Switzerland in action against Steve Johnson of the USA during a first round match on day one of the Australian Open. EPA
Roger Federer of Switzerland in action against Steve Johnson of the USA during a first round match on day one of the Australian Open. EPA

Roger Federer swatted aside Steve Johnson to race into the Australian Open second round as the weather caused further chaos after a build-up hit by haze from raging bushfires.

Hazardous smog left several players with coughs and breathing difficulties during qualifying last week, prompting speculation about whether the year's first tennis Grand Slam would be delayed.

Air quality was rated as "good" as the tournament started but four hours later at about 3pm, play was suspended on most courts as a downpour hit Melbourne Park.

World No 3 Federer was briefly hauled off court while the roof was closed on Rod Laver Arena, before returning to complete a routine 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Johnson.

Play also continued under the retractable roofs of Margaret Court Arena and Melbourne Arena, but was impossible elsewhere as rain persisted.

Federer, 38, said ahead of the tournament that he had low expectations at the year's opening Grand Slam after missing the warm-up ATP Cup to spend more time with his family.

It left him short of match practice, but it didn't show on Rod Laver Arena against American Johnson.

"I felt really good. I trained really hard, like I always do, and happy I did not have any [injury] setbacks [in the off-season]," said Federer.

"I am happy, I played well in practice and happy it showed on the court as well."

The crowd favourite knew he needed to get out of the blocks fast against the world No 75 and that's what he did, racing to a 4-1 lead in the opening set before a 10-minute interruption for the roof to be shut due to rain.

Federer returned and wrapped up the set in just 27 minutes.

Seeded three, Federer is gunning for not only a 21st Slam title but his seventh in Australia, having most recently tasted success at Melbourne Park in 2018.

Despite his age, the Swiss star remains a competitive force and won four singles titles last year.

But he failed to add another Grand Slam with his closest call coming in the Wimbledon final, where he lost a five-set epic to Novak Djokovic.

In contrast to his 2019 Major drought, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal won two apiece, with the Spaniard moving within one Slam title of Federer's record 20.

Canada’s Denis Shapovalov leaves after losing the match against Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics. Reuters
Canada’s Denis Shapovalov leaves after losing the match against Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics. Reuters

Canadian young gun Denis Shapovalov raged at the chair umpire before succumbing to nerves as he crashed out of the Australian Open first round 6-3, 6-7, 6-1 7-6 to unseeded Hungarian Marton Fucsovics.

Shapovalov, seeded 13th and widely tipped as a future Grand Slam champion, was out of sorts from the start at Margaret Court Arena and received a code violation after pounding his racket into the blue hardcourt when broken early in the third set.

That warning triggered a tirade at umpire Renaud Lichtenstein from the 20-year-old, who yelled repeatedly at the Frenchman: "It’s my racket, I can do whatever I want with it!"

He was still indignant an hour after his match, saying it was a "terrible call".

"The rule that I know is that if I break the racket you can code me but you can’t code me for slamming it," a frustrated Shapovalov told reporters.

"I’m not doing anything, it didn’t impact anyone and yeah, the racket was still intact.

"He gave me the warning because I did it two or three times and I think it's not the way it works. He said I kept doing it so he was going to code me, which is a terrible decision."

The tournament's code of behaviour outlaws racket abuse, defining it as "intentionally and violently throwing, destroying or damaging" them on court.

Shapovalov, the highest seed knocked out of the tournament early on Monday, was broken in the opening game of the match, conceded 17 unforced errors in the first set and came within a point of losing the second before Fucsovics gifted it with a double-fault.

After losing his temper at Lichtenstein, Shapovalov surrendered the third set in a prolonged sulk.

He knuckled down in the fourth but ended up squandering a 4-2 lead.

Fucsovics, a muscular 27-year-old who claimed his first and only ATP title in Geneva in 2018, was inspired in the deciding tiebreak, passing the net-rushing Canadian twice on the way to a 6-2 lead.

Shapovalov staved off one match point but bowed out on the second with his 62nd unforced error.

Fucsovics will play the winner of Italian Jannik Sinner and Australian qualifier Max Purcell.

Updated: January 20, 2020 10:07 AM

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