Melbourne: Novak Djokovic made a commanding start to his quest for a hat-trick of Australian Open titles on Monday, as local hero Lleyton Hewitt became the first high-profile casualty.
The Serbian world number one was in imperious form as he tossed aside Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 in just 1hr 42min on Rod Laver Arena to waltz into the second round of the year’s first Grand Slam event. Djokovic headlined a bright and windy first day at Melbourne Park, with former women’s champion Maria Sharapova also starting impressively and China’s Li Na moving safely through.
Djokovic is bidding to become the first player in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian Opens, and he brushed aside the 60th-ranked Mathieu for his 15th straight match win in Melbourne.
“It was a good performance for a first round,” he said. “It’s expected in the first match you’re still not 100 per cent on the court.
“You’re trying to, but it’s going to get better with matches that I play. Hopefully I can continue on with the same rhythm.”
The top seed sent out a clear message that he has the appetite to go after his fourth Australian crown, and his sixth major title overall, at the venue where he broke through for his first Grand Slam win in 2008.
But Hewitt, unseeded but playing in his record 17th consecutive home Open, was knocked out by Serbian eighth seed Janko Tipsarevic 7-6 (7/4), 7-5, 6-3 over three hours of high-class tennis.
“Against quality players, you’ve got to take your chances, but to his credit Janko raised his level and played some great points,” Hewitt said.
Djokovic’s toughest rivals, Andy Murray and Roger Federer, get their campaigns underway on Tuesday, when strong women’s favourite, 15-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, will also be in action.
Williams was in the stands to watch her sister Venus reach round two with a win against Galina Voskoboeva, but Sharapova, the 2008 champion, was the pick of the women’s players after her 6-0, 6-0 crushing of Olga Puchkova.
Sharapova had not played this year after pulling out of the Brisbane International with a collarbone problem, but she showed few signs of rust against her 107th-ranked fellow Russian.
“It’s tough to feel completely satisfied,” said Sharapova, who was runner-up to Victoria Azarenka last year before completing a career Grand Slam at the French Open.
“You always want to improve on things and work on certain things that you feel will help you in the later rounds certainly towards the end of the second week.
“But, yeah, overall I was happy with the way I started, considering I didn’t play any matches coming in.”
Li, who played in her first Grand Slam final in Melbourne in 2011 and won the French Open later that year, eliminated Kazakhstan’s Sesil Karatantcheva 6-1, 6-3 to move into the second round.
Fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who is unbeaten this year, and former world number one Jelena Jankovic also won, while Australia’s 2011 US Open winner Samantha Stosur broke a run of five straight defeats on home soil.
Elsewhere, Spanish fourth seed David Ferrer eased past Belgian Olivier Rochus, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in 1hr 50min and Czech two-time quarter-finalist Tomas Berdych accounted for American Michael Russell 6-3, 7-5, 6-3.
Djokovic did not drop serve and broke the Frenchman’s service four times in a masterful performance ahead of his next round encounter with American Ryan Harrison.
Spanish 10th seed Nicolas Almagro needed five sets and 3hr 10min to douse American qualifier Steve Johnson, but Argentinian 11th seed Juan Monaco stumbled out in straight sets to Russian Andrey Kuznetsov.
Japan’s Kei Nishikori eased doubts over a knee injury as he beat Romania’s Victor Hanescu in four sets.
A left knee injury forced the 16th seed out of this month’s Brisbane International and Kooyong Classic tournaments, but he showed little discomfort in surging home 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 against the 63rd-ranked Hanescu.
Nishikori, 23, Asia’s big hope in the men’s draw, recovered from dropping the opening set in a tiebreaker to take the match in 2hr 39min and will face Argentina’s Carlos Berlocq in the next round.
“It feels good. I think it’s no problem. I played four sets, it’s fine and it should be OK,” Nishikori said of his knee tendinitis.
“I had an echo [scan] a couple of days ago. I saw the picture and it showed nothing. It’s good.”
Nishikori reached the quarter-finals at last year’s Australian Open, the best-ever Grand Slam performance by a Japanese man.
French 32nd seed Julien Benneteau, Austrian seed Jurgen Meltzer, Swiss 15th seed Stanislas Wawrinka and Spaniard Fernando Verdasco were other opening day winners.