Top seed Novak Djokovic looked every inch the Australian Open favourite as he kicked off his bid for a record seventh title at Melbourne Park with an emphatic 6-3 6-2 6-2 win over American qualifier Mitchell Krueger on Tuesday.
Soaking up the Rod Laver Arena limelight, the Serb moved superbly in his opener and hit 42 winners to wrap up the one-sided clash in little more than two hours.
Djokovic bowed out of the fourth round of last year’s tournament bothered by a painful elbow injury but successfully came back from surgery to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Now free from fitness problems, the 31-year-old Serb is savouring his return to a tournament he has virtually owned for the last decade.
“It feels great to be healthy and back on this court again,” the 14-times Grand Slam champion told reporters.
“Twelve months ago it was quite a different sensation on the court with the elbow injury. Twelve months forward, obviously things are quite different.
“Hopefully I can follow up on this victory tonight with a good performance.”
Despite the scoreline, the 230th-ranked Krueger hardly disgraced himself and broke Djokovic in the third game of the first set.
That was as good as it got for the American, as the Serb knuckled down to break right back and coasted to an easy victory.
Djokovic watched injured ‘Big Four’ rival Andy Murray bow out of the first round in a gallant five-set defeat by Spanish 22nd seed Roberto Bautista Agut on Monday, and paid tribute to the three-times Grand Slam champion.
“After two sets, I think no one expected him to really come back, considering how he feels,” Djokovic said of Murray’s painful right hip.
“He showed once again his amazing champion spirit, why he’s such a fighter, why he’s so respected and appreciated around the tennis world, and sports world in general.”
Djokovic will next meet French wildcard Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the man he beat for the 2008 trophy and his first ever Grand Slam title at the age of 20.
“It’s funny, I mean, 11 years after our first Grand Slam final here, it feels like a lot has happened for both of us,” added Djokovic.
“He also struggled with injuries lately. It’s good to see him playing well. It’s good to see him back.”
Zverev overpowers Bedene to move into second round
Alexander Zverev overpowered Aljaz Bedene to win their first round clash at the Australian Open 6-4 6-1 6-4 on Tuesday, although it was not until the German lost an early service game that he was provoked to respond and get his campaign rolling.
The first set meandered until the 198 cm (6.5 ft) Zverev found himself down a break.
The 21-year-old became increasingly animated after losing his serve, and reeled off the next eight games.
Like a prizefighter facing a wilting opponent, Zverev pummelled Bedene for the remainder of the match, free-swinging his way to a straight sets victory.
“I mean, obviously I was a little bit sloppy in the beginning, a little bit sleepy maybe, and the break really was like a wakeup call, you know, that I have to start focusing and start playing from the first match on,” Zverev told journalists after the match.
Zverev, known as Sascha, has emerged as the leader of tennis’ new generation of men’s players, a reputation confirmed late last year by his maiden ATP Finals triumph where he beat Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in consecutive days.
He will play the winner of an all-French first round match between Jeremy Chardy and Ugo Humbert.
Few players have the arsenal to stay with Zverev who hits hard off both wings, and recorded an average first serve speed of 210 km/h during the match.
He also has a knack for making first serves when he is in trouble in a manner reminiscent of great servers such as Boris Becker, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.
But he was also susceptible to lapses on Tuesday, which included losing a service game to love in the third set despite otherwise dominating proceedings.
Zverev, who is yet to seriously challenge at a Grand Slam, is being mentored by new coach Ivan Lendl, an eight-time major winner who helped usher in a new tennis era with his relentless, powerful baseline game.
Lendl has been credited with elevating his former pupil Andy Murray to a level where he could start winning Grand Slams.
Zverev said that he hoped the new relationship would bear fruit in Melbourne.
“Things don’t just come together after you start working with someone one week or two weeks – it really takes time,” Zverev said.
“I hope now it’s going to be the period where it really starts showing.”
Karlovic, 39, defies Father Time to reach second round
Bashing 39 aces to match his age, Ivo Karlovic became the oldest man to win a match at the Australian Open in over 40 years as he felled Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, a man 18 years his junior, to reach the second round on Tuesday.
On a sweltering day at Melbourne Park, the towering Croat’s 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 7-6(3) 7-6(5) win on Court 19 made him the oldest victor at the tournament since Australian icon Ken Rosewall reached the third round of the 1978 tournament at the age of 44.
World number 73 Karlovic also became the oldest winner at any Grand Slam since a 40-year-old Jimmy Connors beat Jaime Oncins to reach the second round of the 1992 U.S. Open.
Karlovic, whose birthday falls on Feb. 28, will be officially middle-aged next month but said he had no intention of winding down while still fit enough to compete.
“I think I’m healthy so hopefully there will be no injuries,” the 6-ft 11-in (2.11 metres) Zagreb man told Reuters at Melbourne Park.
“As long as my ranking is up and I get in to all these tournaments, I don’t see any reason I should stop.”
The oldest man in the men’s singles ahead of 37-year-old double defending champion Roger Federer, Karlovic advanced a day after 31-year-old Andy Murray played possibly his last match at Melbourne Park on Monday.
The former world number one Briton has been suffering severe pain in his right hip and said before the tournament that he might have to retire.
Where Murray’s all-court, scrambling, defensive game has undoubtedly taken its toll, Karlovic’s longevity may be explained in part by his commitment to the now rarely seen art of serve-volley.
Boasting a monster serve and an arm-span that can seem as wide as the court, the Croat keeps points short and sharp.
The style can be picked apart by good passers and the power of modern baseline pounders but it has served former world number 14 Karlovic well in a very respectable career of eight titles.
No rally against Hurkacz exceeded four points and the silver-haired Karlovic sealed the match when the Pole sent an attempted passing shot into the tramlines.
He raised his long arms into the air in triumph as a rowdy smattering of Croatian fans chanted, “Ivo! Ivo! Ivo!”
Why would he want to leave all this, he asked.
“This range of emotions from winning to losing, it’s, I don’t know, it’s different,” he said.
Injury-troubled Kyrgios falls to cap bleak day for Australia
An injury-hampered Nick Kyrgios crashed out of the Australian Open first round on Tuesday with a 6-4 7-6(5) 6-4 thrashing at the hands of Milos Raonic that capped a dismal day for the host nation.
A prodigious yet polarising talent, former quarter-finalist Kyrgios suffered his earliest exit from Melbourne Park, leaving further doubts as to whether the 23-year-old Australian can realise his potential.
In a match neatly summarising Kyrgios’s roller-coaster career, the 52nd-ranked player spent much of the night muttering expletives about the condition of his right knee and had a trainer working on the injury between sets.
When on his feet, he was often thrilling to watch under the lights at Melbourne Arena but gifted free points to the Canadian 16th seed with a slew of botched trick shots.
Kyrgios said his knee had nothing to do with the result and paid Raonic full credit for serving up a storm in the one-sided clash.
He then snapped at a reporter for asking about the injury.
“I don’t know why we’re talking about it. I literally just said it had nothing to do with my loss,” he said.
“Really pointless to keep asking me questions about it.”
Kyrgios was caught up in a local media storm on Monday, when compatriot Bernard Tomic publicly pilloried Australia’s Davis Cup captain
Lleyton Hewitt and said neither of the players wanted to play under the twice Grand Slam champion.
“We all know who those players are: myself, (Thanasi) Kokkinakis, Kyrgios,” Tomic told reporters at Melbourne Park after being eliminated in the first round.
Kyrgios distanced himself from the world number 88’s comments.
“I don’t know what to say. Like, I don’t have a big deal with anything,” he said.
“I’ve always wanted to play Davis Cup. I love Davis Cup. If I don’t play, I don’t play. Like, I’m available. That’s all I got to say. Like, what do you want from me?”
Kyrgios was one of six home players sent spinning out of the tournament on Tuesday, including former U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur and Australian women’s number two Daria Gavrilova.
Raonic moved into a second round clash with former champion Stan Wawrinka.
Shapovalov seeks quick fix after ‘breaking’ Twitter account
Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov sought a speedy solution from social media website Twitter after revealing at the Australian Open on Tuesday that he had been “kicked out” of his account which was later pulled down.
The 19-year year old cruised past Pablo Andujar 6-2 6-3 7-6(3) at Melbourne and used his post-match news conference to pitch for his account to be restored.
“Please, Twitter, let me back in,” Shapovalov told a news conference to laughter.
“I was verifying my age. They said apparently when I created my account, I was too young… so I need a verification with the parent… it’s just been a little bit of a struggle.
“I’m confused as much as you guys are on what’s going on. They just kind of kicked me out… I need to send a letter or
something. I’m trying to fix that.”
Shapovalov said the enforced break from Twitter gave him more time to focus on tennis, adding that he had started working with new coach Rob Steckley during the off-season.
“We put in a lot of good work, a lot of things I really wanted to attack… obviously didn’t come out in Auckland,” the big-hitting Shapovalov, who was beaten by Joao Sousa in the warm-up tournament last week, added.
“Here, I feel like I really was able to emphasize those things. Just came out super sharp today.”
The world number 27 is one of the rising stars of the game but said he was put in his place by his idol Roger Federer earlier this week during practice.
“He destroyed me,” Shapovalov said of the 37-year-old.
“He’s still so fast. He’s got the best timing. It’s unreal what he can do with the ball. But I never realized how quick he was until we actually practiced a couple days ago.”
Shapovalov takes on Japan’s Taro Daniel in the next round.