Melbourne: Serena Williams’ bid for a historic Grand Slam hit an injury hurdle at the Australian Open on Tuesday, as Roger Federer and Andy Murray coasted and a landmark for Chinese tennis proved short-lived.
Federer and Murray opened their accounts with superlative wins on a sun-drenched Rod Laver Arena, as they joined Novak Djokovic in the second round and stayed on course to meet in the semi-finals.
As the tennis world reeled from news that ATP chief Brad Drewett was stepping down after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease, Wu Di became the first Chinese man to play a Grand Slam match, losing in four sets.
And there was drama when Williams, gunning for the first sweep of all four major titles in the same year since 1988, was on court for only 19 minutes against Edina Gallovits-Hall before going over heavily on her right ankle.
However, after medical treatment and despite hobbling around the court, the 15-time Grand Slam-winner astonishingly won 6-0, 6-0 in just 54 minutes as she belted every winner in sight to keep her running to a minimum.
The 31 year old said she felt pain and swelling and may need an X-ray, but pledged to soldier on in her quest for a sixth title at the year’s first Grand Slam.
“Oh, I’ll be out there. I mean, unless something fatal happens to me, there’s no way I’m not going to be competing,” she said. “I’m alive. My heart’s beating. I’ll be fine.”
She added: “Obviously there’s pain. Obviously there’s swelling.”
Any lasting injury to the hot favourite could throw the women’s draw wide open and may benefit defending champion Victoria Azarenka, who is scheduled to meet Williams in the semi-finals.
The world number one from Belarus beat Romania’s Monica Niculescu, but had to come from 3-0 down in the second set before winning 6-1, 6-4.
Caroline Wozniacki, last year’s top seed and now ranked at 10, also had to dig deep before reeling off six third-set games in a row to beat Germany’s Sabine Lisicki.
Former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova also won but Italy’s seventh seed Sara Errani, who contested last year’s French Open final, became the biggest casualty so far when she crashed out to Carla Suarez Navarro.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Laura Robson dominated American Melanie Oudin 6-2, 6-3 to reach the second round of the Australian Open for the first time. She will face Kvitova on Thursday.
Elsewhere, Japanese number one Kimiko Date-Krumm, aged 42, became the oldest female to win a main draw match at the Australian Open, upsetting 12th seed Nadia Pedrova 6-2, 6-0.
In the men’s draw, Murray, in his first Grand Slam match since becoming a major-winner, showed his class in a 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 dismantling of Dutchman Robin Haase.
The Scot said he hoped the experience of September’s US Open win would help him later in the tournament.
“I think when I would see the benefits of that is if I get myself deep into a Slam this year and you’re playing against the top players. That’s when I think you’ll draw on that experience and use it in the right way,” he said.
Federer, who is drawn to face Murray in the semi-finals, also showed little mercy in his 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 win over Frenchman Benoit Paire.
It was a typically sumptuous performance from the popular Swiss, who is bidding to become the first man since Roy Emerson in the 1960s to win five Australian Open titles.
Local hope Bernard Tomic, a potential third-round opponent for Federer, posted his ninth straight win of the year to cruise into the second round on Tuesday, defeating injured Argentinian Leonardo Mayer.
Tomic recorded a routine 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory over the world number 72, who played with his right hand heavily strapped after being burned by a firecracker during the off-season.
Tomic, 20, said his ambition in 2013 was to reach the top 10 from his current ranking of number 43, having won his first ATP Tour title at the Sydney International this month.
“It’s still a long way away and I need to stay focused, keep playing really good tennis,” he said.
“Everyone keeps asking me about playing against Roger [Federer],” Tomic added.
“I’ve got to win and he’s got to win again and if we do, it will be an interesting match. But it’s very difficult. Every player here can play.”
It was Tomic’s first match at a Grand Slam since John McEnroe accused him of tanking against Andy Roddick at the US Open and he said criticism levelled at him last year had been a blessing in disguise.
“I took everything on board,” he said.
“It made me a better player and person.”
Tomic was expecting to play 27th-seeded Martin Klizan in round two but the Slovak was upset 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 by German qualifier Daniel Brands.