Top 10 seeds David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Stan Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet raced into the second round of the Australian Open on Monday, apparently eager to make the most of relatively mild conditions at Melbourne Park.
With temperatures forecast to soar well above 40 degrees Celsius in Melbourne from Tuesday onwards, there was good reason for the players to keep their time on court to a minimum and rest up for challenges to come.
China’s Li Na also played like a woman on a mission and dispatched teenager Ana Konjuh 6-2 6-0 in just over an hour but American Venus Williams bid an early farewell to the tournament when she lost 2-6 6-4 6-4 to Ekaterina Makarova.
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Novak Djokovic kicks off his campaign for a fourth straight Australian Open title against Lukas Lacko in the first evening match on Rod Laver Arena before Serena Williams opens her bid for a sixth title against local Ash Barty.
With only Djokovic of the “Big Four” of men’s tennis in their half of the draw, players like Ferrer, Berdych, Wawrinka and Gasquet will rarely have a better chance to go deep in the year’s first grand slam.
Ferrer started his first round match by hustling his way to a 5-0 lead in the first set before being drawn into a scrap with Colombian Alejandro Gonzalez and grinding out a 6-3 6-4 6-4 victory.
“It’s important for me to win matches in three sets because my game is based on fitness and I need power for my next match,” said Ferrer, who suffered service breaks in all three sets.
“The most important thing is to win. Today maybe I didn’t play my best tennis, but I won.”
Swiss Wawrinka, Djokovic’s potential quarter-final opponent, had the easiest passage in the first match on Hisense Arena when Kazakh Andrey Golubev succumbed to an ankle injury and retired while trailing 6-4 4-1.
Berdych and Gasquet both went through in three sets in less than two hours, though, the seventh seeded Czech beating Aleksandr Nedovyesov 6-3 6-4 6-3 and ninth seed Gasquet downing fellow Frenchman David Guez 7-5 6-4 6-1.
“Winning in straight sets is helpful definitely,” said Berdych, who played in distinctive blue-and-white striped shirt and red shorts.
“Definitely you can feel it on the court. It’s quite warm, quite hot out there.”
Li, twice a losing finalist at Melbourne Park, followed Wawrinka on the second show court and bludgeoned her opponent into submission with her fierce groundstrokes.
The fourth seed has become a crowd favourite in Melbourne Park after her two runs to the final and was again well supported as she set up a second round meeting with another promising 16-year-old, Swiss Belinda Bencic.
“I think I was very lucky we played today,” said the Chinese. “Tomorrow is the worst. But for every player is the same, so you have to get used to it.”
Anna Ivanovic, like Li a former French Open champion and former Melbourne finalist, prevailed 6-4 6-4 in a 92-minute contest against Kiki Bertens featuring 14 breaks of serve.
Bencic beat 43-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-4 4-6 6-3 in a battle of generations – the 27-year age gap between the two the widest at a grand slam since a 47-year-old Martina Navratilova was beaten by 19-year-old Gisela Dulko at Wimbledon in 2004.
Local hopes in the women’s draw rest with 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur overcoming the nerves that have prevented her from ever getting past the fourth round at her home grand slam.
She made a reasonable start on Monday, gaining revenge for a semi-final defeat in Sydney last week with a 6-3 6-4 win over Czech Klara Zakopalova despite losing her serve four times.
Seventh seeded Sara Errani was not so fortunate and was beaten 6-3 6-2 by German Julia Goerges, who mixed 39 winners with 36 unforced errors to upset the Italian.
Russian Makarova upset an injured Serena Williams in the fourth round of the 2012 tournament and completed a family double when Venus’s serve fell apart and she blew a 3-0 lead in the deciding set on Margaret Court Arena.
“I think she played really well, and I think just my level was a little bit too up and down,” said the 33-year-old American, before adding that it was unlikely to be her last match in Melbourne.
“I love Australia. I’d love to come back.”