MELBOURNE: After an opening day that saw seeds tumble and local players enjoy unexpected success, the Australian Open went mostly to script on Tuesday as world number one Novak Djokovic and defending champion Stanislas Wawrinka eased into the second round.
Eight women’s seeds were knocked out on Monday, while patriotic emotion flowed late into the evening after seven Australians won their first round matches, highlighted by upset victories for teenagers Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrigos in clashes that finished after midnight.
There was no such drama on Tuesday, however, with virtually all the top players advancing. Only men’s number 16 Fabio Fognini exited early after a four set loss to Colombia’s Alejandro Gonzalez.
Last year’s women’s finalist Dominika Cibulkova had a scare as she struggled to get going against Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens before running out a 3-6 6-3 6-1 winner.
Perhaps Monday’s excitement had drained the crowds of intensity, or fans were simply gearing up for local favourite Lleyton Hewitt’s mach later in the day, but the atmosphere was more low key, with polite applause rippling, rather than ripping, around most courts.
There was also a low-key element about top seed Djokovic’s play.
Bidding to become the second man to win five Australian Open titles, and touted by pundits and fellow players as the man to beat, Djokovic put in just enough effort to beat Slovenian qualifier Aljaz Bedene 6-3 6-2 6-4 in a shade under two hours.
“For a first round performance it was pretty good,” said Djokovic, who has been dogged by a virus this month. “Still need to work on some things. I’m still developing my game so I’m glad to go through.
“It has been a rough two weeks health-wise but I’m getting there.”
Despite taking a fall early in his match, Wawrinka was equally comfortable against Marsel Ilhan, the only Turkish man to have made a grand slam main draw.
“First grand slam is never easy, but I’m happy the way I played,” the Swiss told reporters. “I play some good tennis and I have confidence with my game in general.”
Kei Nishikori also had few problems, enjoying a 6-4 7-6 6-2 victory over former top-10 player Nicolas Almagro, who is on the comeback trail after foot surgery last June.
“Obviously was really tough, tough first match,” said the Japanese. “He could be seeded player, and I know he was injured, but still was tough match.”
‘EVERYTHING BOTHERS ME’
Eighth-seeded Canadian Milos Raonic also advanced, 7-6(3) 7-6(3) 6-3 over qualifier Illya Marchenko, though he admitted his laconic demeanour on court hides a tangled mess of high strung nerves and personal demons.
“Everything bothers me deep down,” a smiling Raonic said after his 28th ace sealed the win over the 144th-ranked Ukrainian. “Everything. I’m not that relaxed.”
Twice champion Victoria Azarenka, unseeded after an injury-ravaged 2014, was at her banshee-screeching best, raising the decibel levels on Hisense Arena in a 6-3 6-2 win over American Sloane Stephens.
The duo have now faced each other at three successive Australian Opens, though with Azarenka’s plummet down the rankings it was the first time in the opening round.
While she will be a dangerous floater in the draw, the tournament does not get any easier for Azarenka with a second round clash against former world number one Caroline Wozniacki, who eventually outfought American teenager Taylor Townsend 7-6(1) 6-2.
“Being an unseeded player, it’s not a surprise that I have a tough draw or tough opponents in the early rounds,” the 25-year-old Azarenka said. “I just need to go through that.
“I accept the challenges.” (Reuters)