Three-time winner Roger Federer got off to a slow start in his bid for a record-equalling 14th Grand Slam title yesterday as defending champion Novak Djokovic stormed into the Australian Open’s second round.
Federer took two hours and 20 minutes to overcome 35th-ranked Italian Andreas Seppi 6-1, 7-6 (7/4), 7-5, while Serbia’s Djokovic had a much easier task against qualifier Andrea Stoppini.
Andy Roddick also opened strongly against Sweden’s Bjorn Rehnquist, while Spanish 11th seed David Ferrer was made to struggle against German journeyman Denis Gremelmayr.
There was joy for home fans as Australian teen Bernard Tomic became the event’s youngest male winner aged 16 years and 90 days.
Federer looked back to his best in the first set against Seppi but was taken to a tie-break in an error-strewn second and needed three match points to put the Italian away.
The Swiss second seed can match Pete Sampras’ Grand Slam record of 14 titles at the Open and is also trying to win back the No. 1 ranking from Spain’s Rafael Nadal.
Earlier, in blazing sun at Melbourne Park, Djokovic dispatched Stoppini (ITA) 6-2, 6-3, 7-5 after seeing off a late revival from the Italian.
Marat Safin, champion in 2005, destroyed Ivan Navarro of Spain 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, afterwards refusing to talk about his retirement plans.
“I don’t want to speak about this because already I’ve been asked this question so many times that I’m just a little bit tired to answer it over and over,” he said. “Let’s leave it.”
However, 11th seed David Ferrer struggled through in five sets against Germany journeyman Denis Gremelmayr, blaming an inexplicable loss of confidence.
“I’m very irregular. Sometimes I’m playing very well, sometimes I’m playing very badly so it’s confidence for me over the last two months,” he said.
Former No. 1 Roddick scored an early win against Swedish qualifier Bjorn Rehnquist, boosting his hopes of returning to the sport’s peak.
“My results last year, especially in Slams, don’t warrant me being talked about,” he said. “The thing about sports is no one really remembers yesterday, and that’s fair. You have to go out and prove yourself on a daily basis. I have no problem with that.”
Australian attention focused on the sunglasses-wearing Tomic, who rode strong home support to beat Italian Potito Starace 7-6 (7/5), 1-6, 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (8/6).
Tomic has the advantage of a second-round match against Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller, who was on court for nearly four-and-a-half hours in his five-set win against Spanish 27th seed Feliciano Lopez.
Argentinian hotshot Juan Martin Del Potro also made it through along with 2006 finalist Marcos Baghdatis, rising Croatian star Marin Cilic and 10th seed David Nalbandian.
Rafael Nadal and the in-form Andy Murray play their first matches in the other half of the draw today.
In women’s play, Top seed Jelena Jankovic of Serbia underscored her Australian Open credentials with an easy first round win yesterday, but fifth-seeded compatriot Ana Ivanovic struggled for form.
Searing conditions during the first day’s play at Melbourne Park failed to force any upsets on the women’s side of the draw, as Russians Dinara Safina (seeded three) and Vera Zvonareva (seven) also advanced comfortably.
Jankovic’s main problem in disposing of Austria’s Yvonne Meusburger 6-1, 6-3 was the heat from the court’s rubberized surface scalding her feet, forcing her to rest her soles on ice during changeovers.
While Jankovic danced around like a cat on a hot tin roof, Ivanovic stumbled, searching for the form that took her to last year’s Australian Open final and a breakthrough win at the French Open.
She eventually downed Germany’s Julia Goerges 7-5, 6-3, but failed to dominate a player ranked 102 places below her.
Dinara Safina, another player whose big-match temperament was once questioned, showed no sign of nerves in snuffing out a determined challenge from fellow Russian Alla Kudryavtseva 6-3, 6-4.
Russian seventh seed Vera Zvonareva overcame early jitters to beat Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia 7-6 (7/2), 6-0, taking control of the match in the second set after being pushed all the way in the first.
Another member of the Russian brigade, 10th seed Nadia Petrova, advanced after beating Kazakhstan’s Yaroslava Shvedova 6-3, 7-6 (7/3).
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