Novak Djokovic got his Australian Open title defence off to a rollicking start, breezing past Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-3 6-1 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena on Monday.
The world number one, who has won eight of his 17 major titles at Melbourne Park, rattled off 41 winners and did not face a single break point en route to victory.
Serena Williams kickstarted her bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title with a 6-1 6-1 drubbing of Germany’s Laura Siegemund before rushing off the court to watch Tom Brady win his seventh Super Bowl.
Nick Kyrgios treated the sparse crowd at the John Cain Arena to some vintage moments — a racket thrown across the court, and a few choice words towards his box and the umpire — as he sailed to a 6-4 6-4 6-4 victory over qualifier Frederico Ferreira Silva.
Bianca Andreescu was made to work hard on her return to competition after 15 months, but the 2019 U.S. Open winner dug deep to see off Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania 6-2 4-6 6-3.
Alexander Zverev overcame an inconsistent start and a smashed racket to battle past unheralded American Marcos Giron 6-7(8) 7-6(5) 6-3 6-2, while U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem fended off Mikhail Kukushkin 7-6(2) 6-2 6-3.
Simona Halep skipped briskly into the second round of the Australian Open with a businesslike 6-2 6-1 demolition of local wild card Lisette Cabrera on Monday.
The second seeded Romanian looked in fine form as she moved her opponent around the Rod Laver Arena court apparently at will and seized her break-point opportunities with alacrity.
Cabrera, who has never won a match at her home Grand Slam in four attempts, initially froze on her country’s most prestigious tennis arena and found her best game only when the result was all but certain.
Halep, a semi-finalist last year and finalist in 2018, wrapped up the contest inside an hour with a sixth break of serve and moved on to face another Australian in Ajla Tomljanovic.
American Venus Williams brushed off a question about her age after defeating Belgian Kirsten Flipkens at the Australian Open, but the 40-year-old’s ongoing passion for her sport was hailed as an inspiration by several of her fellow professionals.
After failing to get past the first round at each of the three Grand Slams held last year, Venus turned back the clock on Monday by beating Flipkens 7-5 6-2 to ease into the second round in Melbourne.
“Would it be front of mind for you if you were playing a professional tennis match?” Williams said in reply to a question about her age during her post-match interview.
“There you go,” she added, when the reporter replied, “Not necessarily.”
Younger sister Serena, who eased into round two with a 6-1 6-1 drubbing of Germany’s Laura Siegemund, said Venus’s optimism and work ethic were a daily source of personal inspiration.
“She never gets frustrated about her situation, health-wise,” Serena said. “She’s always looking on the bright side. Then she works so hard.
“It’s also very inspiring because she still pushes me on a level that no one’s able to push me.”
The Williams sisters’ contribution to tennis was also highlighted by Japan’s Naomi Osaka, who reached the second round after demolishing Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
“I actually interact with Venus more. I feel like I do talk about Serena a lot, but Venus is sort of the reason why Serena is where she is,” Osaka said.
Canadian Milos Raonic, who also won his first-round match, said Venus was an inspiration for a lot of people even though she had nothing left to prove.
“Just in general, you see Venus, she’s out there on court training,” he said. “She takes it incredibly seriously. She… doesn’t have to be out on tour other than her own desires and her own passion for the sport.
“She’s here because she loves it. She’ll take whatever opportunity and try to really make the most of it, give it her all.”
Dominic Thiem was relieved to find form when it counted as he fended off Mikhail Kukushkin 7-6(2) 6-2 6-3 to reach the Australian Open second round on Monday after piecemeal preparations ahead of the Grand Slam.
U.S. Open champion Thiem was trounced by Italian Matteo Berrettini in the ATP Cup and had only a set against Benoit Paire before the injury-hampered Frenchman retired during the team-based tournament.
It seemed the Austrian had not fully shaken off the rust on Monday as Kazakh Kukushkin broke him twice in the opening set at Rod Laver Arena and pushed within a point of taking it at 6-5.
But third seed Thiem nullified the threat and dominated the tiebreak before rolling on to an encouraging win.
“Yeah, definitely I felt nerves because it was a long time until the Slam, more than three weeks from when we arrived to Adelaide,” said Thiem, who quarantined in the South Australia state capital with Novak Djokovic and other top players.
“If I practise too many days in a row, I start to play worse again, instead of better.
“I didn’t really know where I’m standing at. And I also faced an opponent today who is tough to play, especially in these conditions.
“I’m happy how I did it and how I came through.”
Having made his Grand Slam breakthrough at Flushing Meadows, Thiem is considered one of the major threats to favourite Djokovic, who edged him in a five-set thriller in last year’s final.
Djokovic has said the speedier hardcourts at Melbourne Park this year should suit big-serving, hard-hitting players like Thiem, but the Austrian did not feel they played to his strengths.
“Not really. I mean, I like to have time, so the fast court takes it away a little bit for me, so that’s not perfect,” he said.
“I have the feeling that it’s one of the faster tournaments I’ve played in recent years, but it’s like that, that’s tennis.
“We have to get used to different conditions every year and almost every week, so this year is faster, and I’m actually happy how I adjusted to it.”
Naomi Osaka gave the Australian Open’s electronic line judges her seal of approval after advancing to the second round with a machine-like 6-1 6-2 demolition of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Monday.
Triple Grand Slam champion Osaka said it had taken time to get used to the system but would be happy for it to be adopted at other tournaments.
“I feel like for me, it saves me the trouble of attempting to challenge or thinking about, ‘Did they call it correctly or not?’” the Japanese third seed told reporters.
“It actually gets me really focused. I don’t mind it at all.”
The Australian Open is the first Grand Slam to dispense with human line judges as part of efforts to reduce personnel and stage a biosecure tournament amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ball-tracking cameras send decisions in real time, with recorded human voices calling: “out, “fault” and “foot fault”.
The recordings were provided by Australia’s health workers, firefighters and other emergency services personnel as a tribute. Close decisions are replayed on screens.
“For me, I feel like if they do want to continue this way, I actually have no complaints about it because I think that there’s a lot of arguments that aren’t going to happen because of this technology,” said Osaka, who is bidding for her second title at Melbourne Park after winning the 2019 tournament.
Osaka, who will meet Caroline Garcia in the second round, made a stunning start in the opening match at Rod Laver Arena.
Russian veteran Pavlyuchenkova, a three-time quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park, was seen as a potential banana skin for Osaka but was steamrolled by the 23-year-old in front of a smattering of fans.
Osaka had pulled out of the semi-final of the Gippsland Trophy warm-up event with a shoulder niggle over the weekend but showed no sign of injury as she wrapped up the match in just over an hour.
The favourite to win the year’s first Grand Slam, Osaka has now gone a year and a day without tasting defeat, with 15 successive wins in completed matches since a surprise Fed Cup loss to Spain’s Sara Soribes Tormo.
The pandemic shut down the global tennis tours soon after the Fed Cup loss, giving Osaka plenty of time to think about what motivates her.
“It really made me think a lot about my life and what is the reason — am I playing tennis to prove stuff to other people or am I playing to have fun because I enjoy it?” she said.
“From there I just took that attitude and tried to, I don’t know, move forward with it. It’s something that I was doing in New York. I think that I’m doing it here, too.”
Bianca Andreescu was so nervous she broke down in tears at the weekend as she prepared to make her return from a 15-month absence but the Canadian showed her mettle on Monday, beating Mihaela Buzarnescu in the Australian Open first round.
The Canadian eighth seed was given a stiff test by Romanian Buzarnescu before advancing with a 6-2 4-6 6-3 victory, her first match since retiring from the 2019 WTA Finals in Shenzhen with a knee injury.
The 2019 U.S. Open champion moved around the John Cain Arena court well and showed no sign of discomfort or nerves.
“Yesterday though I was super, super nervous to be back playing again,” she told reporters. “But today I had a good warmup, everything was fine, and then I was feeling good.
“There were some ups and downs during the match attitude-wise in my opinion, but it’s okay. It’s my first match back; what can I say?”
Despite going through 14 days of hard quarantine after arriving in Australia, Andreescu breezed through the opening set with some aggressive hitting and broke her left-handed opponent’s serve twice.
However, Buzarnescu, 32, raised her game in the second set and levelled the match as Andreescu’s unforced error count began to creep up with the Canadian appearing a bit too eager to hit winners of every shot.
With fatigue setting in from a lack of match practice, Andreescu found herself down 0-40 at 3-3 in the decider but dug deep and managed to find a different gear, holding serve and then winning the next two games, sealing victory with a forehand overhead winner.
Andreescu hit 27 winners compared to 11 from world No. 138 Buzarnescu, though she committed five more unforced errors than the Romanian.
The Canadian next faces a second-round matchup against Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei, who earlier beat U.S. Open quarter-finalist Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria 7-5 6-2.
“I have played her before, so I kind of know what to expect,” she said of Hsieh.
“She’s a pretty crafty player, so I think that’s going to be a fun match.”
Former champion Angelique Kerber made an early exit from the Australian Open on Monday and said spending two weeks in hard quarantine ahead of the Grand Slam had contributed to her first-round loss.
The German former world number one was one of 72 players who were unable to leave their rooms to train during quarantine after passengers on their flights to Melbourne tested positive for COVID-19.
Her opponent Bernarda Pera was not among that cohort and the American ousted the 2016 Australian Open champion 6-0 6-4 in little more than an hour on the first morning of the tournament.
“Of course, you feel it if you are not the hitting ball for two weeks and you are not in the rhythm,” Kerber told reporters after her earliest exit from Melbourne Park for six years.
“I was really trying to staying positive and doing the best out of the two-week situation but you feel it, especially if you play one of the first matches in a Grand Slam … against an opponent who didn’t stay in the hard lockdown.”
Kerber congratulated Australia on its success in containing the new coronavirus and said she had enjoyed playing in front of fans again, however briefly.
The 33-year-old thought, however, that she might have reconsidered the long trip to Australia if she had known she would have to remain locked in her room for 14 days.
“When I look back, of course I was not planning the two weeks in hard quarantine,” she added. “I don’t know, maybe if I knew that before to stay really two weeks in the hard quarantine without hitting a ball, maybe I would think twice about that.”
After a long-haul flight from Abu Dhabi and two weeks quarantine in Melbourne, Tamara Zidansek’s Australian Open singles tournament lasted just 81 minutes when the Slovenian was bundled out in the first round on Monday.
Still, the A$100,000 ($77,000) in prizemoney for first-up losers made it worth the journey and helped ease the disappointment of a 6-2 7-5 loss to Kazakh Zarina Diyas.
“Of course I’ll take it,” world number 91 Zidansek, one of the first players eliminated on day one, told Reuters at Melbourne Park.
“I think it’s worth doing the 14-day quarantine when you come here.
“It’s still a really high prizemoney to get. I’m 22-years-old. I don’t come from a background that’s rich. I come from a small country, I never got a lot of sponsors or anything.
“I’m glad that I’m here and I can get what I get.”
The prizemoney for first round losers went up from A$90,000 in 2020.
Zidansek was one of some 500 players, coaches and officials who needed to isolate and get tested after a worker at their quarantine hotel contracted COVID-19.
It was more of an inconvenience than a scare for Zidansek, and the whole contingent were cleared and allowed to resume in the warmup tournaments after play was suspended on Thursday.
Zidansek, who is also playing the doubles at Melbourne Park and the WTA tournament that follows the Australian Open, is in no rush to leave a country where community transmission of COVID-19 is rare and most social restrictions have been eased.
“You can take a day off maybe and go do something you wouldn’t normally do,” said Zidansek, who has never made it past the second round of the singles in Melbourne.
“I would like to go to the movies because we’re not able to do that at home. Maybe I’ll do that.”
Canadian 11th seed Denis Shapovalov outlasted Italian Jannik Sinner 3-6 6-3 6-2 4-6 6-4 in an enthralling battle of ‘Next Gen’ stars on Monday to move into the second round of the Australian Open.
In the final clash on Margaret Court Arena on the opening day of the Grand Slam, the 21-year-old Shapovalov and Sinner, 19, put on a masterclass of clean hitting and athleticism in a first career meeting between them.
“Today was just incredible tennis from both of us,” Shapovalov told reporters.
“Honestly, I think Jannik is super talented. He’s such an amazing player, he’s a great guy, great worker. I’m sure he’s going to be a very, very tough opponent in the future… I’m a really big fan of his game and how he is.”
In an evenly-contested match with hardly anything to choose between the two youngsters, Sinner, who on Sunday became the youngest to win two ATP titles since Novak Djokovic in 2006, made a fast start to jump to a 3-0 lead before taking the set.
Against Sinner’s immaculate hitting and robust court coverage, Shapovalov needed to raise his game and the world number 12 managed to find an extra gear and some more power behind his shots to take the next two sets.
Having played both singles and doubles almost everyday in the tuneup event the past week, Sinner’s legs seemed to have run out of juice when he fell back 3-1 in the fourth set.
But the 32nd-ranked Italian found the energy to stage a fightback and level the contest at 2-2.
Before the deciding set, Shapovalov had a lengthy argument with the chair umpire after being denied a toilet break. He then received some medical attention for a shoulder niggle and returned to the court to break Sinner in the opening game.
Sinner, who used his 14-day isolation in Adelaide ahead of the Grand Slam as Rafa Nadal’s hitting partner, spent whatever he had in his tank and had two opportunities to get the break back in the decider but failed to convert them.
“There’s not that much difference between him and me,” Sinner said, choosing his sessions against the 20-times Grand Slam singles winner as the highlight of his trip to Australia.
“He played better today during certain points, he deserved to win. It’s mentally tough losing in the fifth, but it’s going to be a lesson, as well.”
After almost four hours, Shapovalov sealed the contest at almost 1 am in the morning with a forehand winner down the line on his second match point to set up a second-round meeting against Australian Bernard Tomic.
“Matches like this is so much fun for me to play, this is why I play the sport,” Shapovalov said in his on-court interview.
“Win or lose today, it’s one of the matches that I’m going to remember in my career just because … the moment, the quality of tennis today, it was just so much fun to be out here.”
Belarusian seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka sealed a comfortable 6-0 6-4 win over 100th-ranked Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia to reach the second round.
World number seven Sabalenka struck 21 winners compared to eight from Kuzmova.
Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta advanced to the second round with a 7-5 7-6(4) 6-2 win over world number 42 Kei Nishikori.
Carreno Busta, who is seeded 15th, hit 39 winners and sent down 12 aces while Nishikori recorded 36 winners and only three aces.
Frenchman Gael Monfils was beaten 3-6 6-4 7-5 3-6 6-3 by little-known Finn Emil Ruusuvuori in one of the day’s biggest upsets so far.
Monfils, the 10th seed, hit 46 winners but also made 64 unforced errors as he was dumped out in the first round for the second time in his career, the first coming in 2006.
Order of play on the main showcourts on the second day of the Australian Open on Tuesday (play begins at 0000 GMT, prefix number denotes seeding):
ROD LAVER ARENA
- 4-Sofia Kenin (U.S.) v Maddison Inglis (Australia)
- Marie Bouzkova (Czech Republic) v 5-Elina Svitolina (Ukraine)
- Laslo Djere (Serbia) v 2-Rafa Nadal (Spain)
Not before 0800 GMT
- 1-Ash Barty (Australia) v Danka Kovinic (Montenegro)
- 5-Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greece) v Giles Simon (France)
MARGARET COURT ARENA
- 14-Garbine Muguruza (Spain) v Margarita Gasparyan (Russia)
- 12-Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) v Jessica Pegula (U.S.)
- Vasek Pospisil (Canada) v 4-Daniil Medvedev (Russia)
Not before 0800 GMT
- Kevin Anderson (South Africa) v 9-Matteo Berrettini (Italy)
- Sara Sorribes Tormo (Spain) v Daria Gavrilova (Australia)
JOHN CAIN ARENA
- 7-Andrey Rublev (Russia) v Yannick Hanfmann (Germany)
- Coco Gauff (U.S.) v Jil Teichmann (Switzerland)
Not before 0500 GMT
- Tennys Sandgren (U.S.) v 21-Alex de Minaur (Australia)
- Destanee Aiava (Australia) v Samantha Stosur (Australia)