Friday 15 December 2017

Djokovic hits Australian ground running

Novak Djokovic celebrates defeating Paul-Henri Mathieu
Novak Djokovic celebrates defeating Paul-Henri Mathieu

Nigel Whittaker

Novak Djokovic could not hide his satisfaction after completing the first step on the road to a place in history at the Australian Open.

Bidding to become the first man in the Open era to win three successive titles in Melbourne, Djokovic hit the ground running to brush aside the potentially tricky Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu.

On his first appearance on Rod Laver Arena since his epic five-set triumph over Rafael Nadal 12 months ago, the world No 1 had a more straightforward afternoon, winning 6-2 6-4 7-5.

The first two sets were routine and, although Mathieu upped his level as the match went on, Djokovic secured a break late in the third to set up a clash with American Ryan Harrison.

On a day largely free of upsets, fourth seed David Ferrer and fifth seed Tomas Berdych also advanced with ease. Ferrer proved too strong for Belgian Olivier Rochus, winning 6-3 6-4 6-2 inside two hours, and Berdych had little trouble in dispatching American Michael Russell 6-3 7-5 6-3.

Several other seeds also progressed on day one at Melbourne Park with varying degrees of difficulty. Nicolas Almagro required five sets to see off American qualifier Steve Johnson – as did Fernando Verdasco, who hit back from two sets to one and a break down to beat David Goffin.

No 9 seed Janko Tipsarevic ended the hopes of home favourite Lleyton Hewitt, who went down 7-6 (7/4) 7-5 6-3 in his 17th appearance in this tournament.

Maria Sharapova cruised into the second round with a ruthless demolition of countrywoman Olga Puchkova. There was little Russian solidarity on show as the second seed enjoyed a 6-0 6-0 'double-bagel' against an opponent who gave a faultless impersonation of a rabbit trapped in the headlights.

The win moved Sharapova a step closer to a potential third-round shoot-out against five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams and also dispelled any doubts over the state of her troublesome collarbone.

Although she didn't drop a game, Sharapova, who was beaten in last year's final, insisted there was still room for improvement.

"It's tough to feel completely satisfied," she said. "You always want to improve on things that you feel will help you in the later rounds towards the end of the second week."

There were also wins for in-form fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, fifth seed Angelique Kerber, sixth seed Li Na and home favourite Sam Stosur. (© Independent News Service)

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