Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka sailed through injury tests at the Australian Open on Tuesday with focused former champion Maria Sharapova also successfully getting back to business after her drug ban.
Twelve-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic has been out of action for six months with an elbow injury, but you wouldn’t have known it in his 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 demolition of American Donald Young.
Former Melbourne champion Wawrinka also 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.
Djokovic, gunning for a seventh Australian Open title, was also glad to be back, 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.”
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.
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 Melbourne 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.” – Goodbye 2017 – 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, and Belgian seventh seed David Goffin 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. Roger Federer, rated as favourite to win his 20th Grand Slam title even at the venerable age of 36, makes his entrance in a night match on Rod Laver Arena.
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, faces Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene.
Third seeded Garbine Muguruza also makes her bow in an evening match. Former world number one Pliskova was among those to move smoothly into the second round, with a steady 6-3, 6-4 win over Veronica Cepede Royg. ”
I’ll take it match by match and I think I have a good chance,” said the tall tattooed Czech, who made the quarter-final in Australia last year.
Sydney-born Konta also made the last eight in 2017 and showed no signs of her recent hip injury as she dismantled Brengle 6-3, 6-1.
Provided by AFP Sport
World number one Simona Halep had to come from 5-2 and a set point down against Australian teenager Destanee Aiava to win a dramatic first-round match at the Australian Open on Tuesday.
Both the Romanian and her 17-year-old wildcard opponent needed on-court medical attention before top seed Halep ran out a battling 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 winner in an hour and 51 minutes.
The top seed had fallen at the first hurdle in the past two years at Melbourne Park and another shock was beckoning when the big-hitting Australian took a 5-2 lead in the first set buoyed by rowdy home supporters.
“She was a very tough opponent,” said a relieved Halep after the match.
“She’s very talented and powerful. She reminds me a little bit of Serena Williams.”
“It was a pleasure to be back here on centre court.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 16, 2018
But the fearless teenager’s charge to the first set in her first appearance on Rod Laver Arena came to a dramatic halt as she called for a medical timeout at the change of ends, complaining of breathing problems.
After her blood pressure and pulse were taken she departed for further treatment.
On her return she managed to get to set point on the Romanian’s serve, but once Halep held the tide turned.
Aiava was still dazed and even tried to change ends at 5-3 in her confused state until the umpire gently ushered her back.
Halep showed little of the form which helped her to the Shenzhen title two weeks ago but used her all experience to extend the rallies and force the ailing Australian to dig deep.
Halep eventually forced a tiebreak and finally squeezed over the finish line 7-5 in the tiebreaker to snatch a marathon first set after 73 minutes.
After racing into a 2-0 lead to start the second there was more drama when Halep rolled her ankle horribly chasing down a backhand and fell to the ground needing immediate attention from the physio.
But when she returned with her right ankle newly taped she immediately broke Aiava for 3-0, a moment greeted by almost silence from the home supporters who badly needed to be lifted by the fast-fading Aiava.
But it wasn’t to be as Halep got to the second round for the first time since 2015.
“I have a little injury so I don’t know how it is going to be,” Halep said of her ankle. “But it was a nice atmosphere out here even though you were all supporting her.”
She now faces a mouth-watering clash against Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, a former semi-finalist in Melbourne and Roland Garros, and a finalist at Wimbledon in 2014.
In contrast, men’s top seed Rafa Nadal looked outstanding in his straight sets win over Victor Estrella Burgos, while the impressive Belinca Bencic beat Venus Williams to book her place in the second round.
Here, we pick out three who shone and three who struggled on day one.
England’s Kyle Edmund pulled off the biggest victory of his career with a five-set win over Kevin Anderson.
The 23-year-old stepped up in the absence of the injured Andy Murray to recover from two sets down and beat the South African 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Edmund looked flawless and sealed his win after three hours and 59 minutes.
He will face Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan in the second round on Tuesday – the man who beat Novak Djokovic at the same stage in the last edition of the tournament.
Swiss star Belinda Bencic stunned Venus Williams in straight sets 6-3, 7-5 to advance to the second round at Melbourne Park.
The 20-year-old was outstanding as she dispatched the American with ease to set up a clash with Luksika Kumkhum on Wednesday morning.
It is the first time since 1997 that neither Williams sisters feature in the second round of the Australian Open.
Rafael Nadal showed no signs of injury concerns as he cruised into the next round.
The World No1 was curtailed by a knee injury at the end of the 2017 season, and he arrived in Melbourne without playing a warm-up event.
However, he dispatched the Dominican Republic’s Victor Estrella Burgos 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 with minimal fuss, taking just 94 minutes to get the result.
Sloane Stephens’ dire run of form continued after she was beaten by Zhang Shuai of China 2-6, 7-6, 6-2.
The 13th seed produced another disappointing performance and has not won in seven matches now.
Stephens returned from a career changing injury to win the US Open in September but has struggled with form and confidence since her success at Flushing Meadows.
Last year’s semi-finalist Coco Vandeweghe crashed out of the Australian Open after a horror first round showing against Timea Babos.
The 10th seed, who also made the last four at the US Open in 2017, was beaten in straight sets by Hungary’s Babos 7-6, 6-2.
She was the third big-name American to be sent packing on day one – alongside Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens.
The World No51 Hungarian took an hour and 46 minutes to beat an inconsistent Vandeweghe, who committed 28 unforced errors.
Jack Sock tumbled out of the Australian Open after losing 6-1, 7-6, 5-7, 6-3 to Yuichi Sugita of Japan.
The eighth seed was defeated in two-and-half-hours by the World No41 ranked Sugita.
The American had suffered a minor hip injury during the Hopman Cup earlier this month – and bowed out in the second round of the Auckland Classic a week later.
Sock hit 52 unforced errors en route to his defeat against Sugita, who will now face Ivo Karlovic of Croatia in the next round.