Novak Djokovic served up only flashes of his best tennis on the opening day of the Australian Open but took a comfortable first step on the path he hopes will lead to an unprecedented hat-trick of titles at Melbourne Park in two weeks’ time.
Perhaps keeping energy in reserve for the battles that lie ahead, the world number one’s workmanlike 6-2 6-4 7-5 victory over Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu on Monday summed up a day where the year’s first grand slam failed to really fire.
“It was a good performance for a first round,” said the top seed, who will play American Ryan Harrison in the second round.
“There are some few adjustments that I need to make and get a little bit sharper on the court. But it’s expected in the first match you’re still not a 100 percent on the court.”
While Djokovic only roused himself when necessary, Maria Sharapova was ruthless as she swept aside any fears about her fitness with a thumping 6-0 6-0 win over compatriot Olga Puchkova on Rod Laver Arena.
“It was tough to break. But in the end … I made some good shots and managed to go through straight sets.”
With Andy Murray and Roger Federer not beginning their campaigns until Tuesday and Rafa Nadal absent injured, Monday was an opportunity for those players just outside the elite of the men’s game to strut their stuff.
David Ferrer duly continued the form which won him a fourth Auckland Open title on Saturday to beat Olivier Rochus 6-3 6-4 6-2, while fifth seed Tomas Berdych also progressed with a 6-3 7-5 6-3 win over American Michael Russell.
Despite the record temperatures which have gripped Australia for the last couple of weeks, the Australian Open opened to a mild morning in Melbourne.
There was nothing mild about Sharapova’s demolition of Puchkova on Rod Laver Arena, however, and the Russian powered her way into the second round in just 55 minutes.
Firing winners at will, particularly off the forehand, the 2008 champion showed no signs of the collar bone injury that caused her to pull out of the Brisbane warm-up.
“I was happy with the way I started, considering I didn’t play any matches coming in,” the 25-year-old said. “It was just one of those matches where I didn’t try to worry about her too much, I just tried to think about what I had to do.”
Williams could meet Sharapova in the third round and proved she might be a handful for the second seed by winning 12 successive games to beat Kazakh Galina Voskoboeva 6-1 6-0.