MELBOURNE: A ruthless Rafael Nadal showed no mercy in a clinical first round thumping at the Australian Open Monday with fellow former champions Angelique Kerber and Maria Sharapova also romping through.
The 17-time Grand Slam winner, who cut short his 2018 season to have surgery on a foot injury, cruised into round two of the year’s opening major 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 against Australian wildcard James Duckworth.
“Not easy to come back after a lot of months, especially against a player playing super aggressive on every point,“ said the 2009 Australian champion, who showed no sign of any injury worries.
“The energy I feel in this place is fantastic,“ he added.
The Spanish second seed is bidding to become the first man in the Open era, and only third in history along with Roy Emerson and Rod Laver, to win each Grand Slam on two or more occasions.
Fifth seed Kevin Anderson also progressed against Adrian Mannarino, with last year’s Wimbledon finalist a 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 winner.
NextGen Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas also went through in four sets.
Women’s second seed Angelique Kerber swept past Slovenia’s Polona Hercog 6-2, 6-2, with the Wimbledon champion producing a clinical display to launch her campaign at a tournament she won in 2016.
“We now have 2019 and I try to continue to play how I did last year,“ said the three-time Grand Slam winner.
Sharapova, a winner at Melbourne Park in 2008, signalled her intent with a rare 6-0, 6-0 double bagel demolition of Britain’s Harriet Dart, who ended the match in tears.
Playing in her 15th Australian Open, the three-time finalist said she was pleased to go through so easily as she battles back from injuries.
“It was a good test for my leg, for my shoulder,“ she said.
“I’m still working through some painful days. But, you know, I felt like I did all the right things today in order to get through that match.”
Fifth seeded Sloane Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion who struggled in her warm-up tournaments in Brisbane and Sydney, got back to business with an easy two-set win against fellow American Taylor Townsend.
Eleventh seed Aryna Sabalenka, widely tipped as a potential future champion, also safely negotiated round one on a hot day.
But Germany’s 14th seed Julia Goerges, who won the recent Auckland Classic, crashed out, as did former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
Britain’s Katie Boulter, meanwhile, created a slice of history by becoming the first woman to win in a third set tiebreak – a new rule introduced to the Open this year.
Instead of playing to the death, third or fifth sets now go to a tie-break when the score reaches 6-6 and it becomes the first to 10.
It seemed Boulter wasn’t told, fist-pumping and walking to the net at 7-4 before being reminded of the new rule.
She went on to beat Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (10-6).
Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki open their title defences later in the day, while Andy Murray takes to the court for what could be his farewell match in Melbourne and potentially his last ever.
Swiss maestro Federer, seeded three, has won the last two Australian Opens and is gunning for a record seventh crown and 21st Grand Slam title.
He starts off against Denis Istomin on Rod Laver Arena.
Former world No. 1 Murray tearfully revealed last week that severe pain from a hip injury was proving too much to bear and he planned to retire this year.
He would like to finish at Wimbledon, but admitted the Australian Open could be his last tournament.
Spain’s 22nd seed Roberto Bautista Agut is the man who could draw the curtain on Murray’s time Down Under, where he has been a five-time finalist.
Denmark’s Wozniacki broke through for her first Slam title here last year, beating Simona Halep in the final, and gets her tournament under way against Belgium’s Alison van Uytvanck. — AFP