MELBOURNE, Jan 20 (AFP): World number ones Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams showed no mercy in powering through to the Australian Open second round Tuesday as unseeded dark horse Victoria Azarenka won her grudge match.
Novak Djokovic stretches for a backhand against Aljaz Bedene during the Australian Open in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Defending men’s champion Stan Wawrinka, Japanese fifth seed Kei Nishikori and women’s fourth seed Petra Kvitova also stayed on course.
Eighteen-time Grand Slam winner Williams opened her Melbourne Park account with a decisive 6-0, 6-4 display against Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck, laying down the marker to her challengers.
A sixth Australian Open title would take her to clear second on the Grand Slam Open Era winners list behind Steffi Graf’s 22, having joined Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova on 18 with her win at the US Open last year.
“If I could get to 19 in Australia that would be beyond amazing, so we’ll see. I have a lot of work to do but I’m just going to enjoy myself,” said the American.
Serbian top seed Djokovic, gunning for a fifth Australian title, also found his groove early against Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene to post a commanding 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win.
“For a first round performance it was pretty good, obviously I still need to work on a few things, I’m still developing my game,” said Djokovic, who lost to Wawrinka in the quarter-finals last year.
The Swiss fourth seed went on to stun Rafael Nadal and win his maiden Grand Slam, and he is keen to repeat the heroics again this year.
He got his title defence off to to a solid start with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 mauling of Turkey’s Marsel Ilhan, encountering few problems.
“It was great to be back on Rod Laver Arena again, it brings back so many memories from last year,” he said.
“It was such an amazing two weeks last year so it was great to come back here and I am pleased with my game in general and I’m excited to start again.”
Roger Federer, Nadal and Maria Sharapova all played Monday and easily progressed.
Nishikori, who lost to Marin Cilic in last year’s US Open final and is touted as a future major champion, showed his mettle to beat Nicolas Almagro 6-4, 7-6 (7/1), 6-2.
The Spaniard is a former world number nine and the Japanese star said it was a good workout.
“Obviously, it was a really tough, tough first match. He could be seeded player, and I know he was injured, but still it was a tough match,” he said.
Azarenka is a two-time Australian Open champion but came into the tournament ranked just 44 after an injury-marred 2014 and a battle with depression.
But she showed why she is regarded as the most dangerous unseeded player as she downed American Sloane Stephens 6-3, 6-2 to set up an enticing second round encounter with eighth seed Caroline Wozniacki.
Azarenka and Stephens have history, with the Belarussian former world number one controversially defeating her in the 2013 semi-final with the help of a lengthy medical timeout, which angered the fans.
She needed no such tactics on Tuesday, leaving little doubt that she wants a third Grand Slam title in Melbourne after triumphing in 2012 and 2013.
“You’ve got to win seven matches to win a title and this was a great first round for me to really test my game,” the 25-year-old said.
Denmark’s Wozniacki, another former world number one and a close friend of Azarenka’s, had a tougher assignment against American teenager Taylor Townsend, who made her work hard for a 7-6 (7-1), 6-2 win.
Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champion, ground out a straight sets win over Dutch qualifier Richel Hogenkamp, but admitted nerves affected her performance.
Other seeds progressing included Dominika Cibulkova, who lost in last year’s final to the now-retired Li Na, Venus Williams and men’s eighth seed Milos Raonic.