Top players shine in Melbourne

Tough Battle: American Serena Williams returns the ball to Belgium's Alison van Uytvanck during their first-round match at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park yesterday.
Tough Battle: American Serena Williams returns the ball to Belgium’s Alison van Uytvanck during their first-round match at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park yesterday.

Djokovic, Serena joined by ex-champs in Australian Open second round.

Top seeds Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams stuck to the Australian Open script with fairly routine victories yesterday, while men’s champion Stan Wawrinka and two-time winner Victoria Azarenka joined them in the second round.

The tournament had been turned on its head on the first day with eight women’s seeds, notably fifth-ranked Ana Ivanovic, crashing out in the first round.

Yesterday’s matches went mostly as expected, however, with Djokovic barely troubled while Serena had some issues in the second set as both faced players ranked more than 100 places below them.

Bidding to become the second man to win five Australian Open titles and touted by pundits and fellow players as the player to beat, Djokovic put in just enough effort to beat Slovenian qualifier Aljaz Bedene 6-3 6-2 6-4 in a shade under two hours.

“For a first-round performance it was pretty good,” Djokovic said. He has been dogged by a virus this month.

“I’m still developing my game so I’m glad to go through. It has been a rough two weeks healthwise, but I’m getting there.”

Serena was at her ambivalently arrogant best in the first set, appearing barely to acknowledge Alison van Utyvanck’s presence as she swatted aside the Belgian 6-0 in 21 minutes, then jumped to a 1-0 lead in the second.

Such was her dominance a “double-bagel” appeared on the cards before Van Utyvanck, 20, found her rhythm and range and forced the 18-times grand slam winner into a match, which caused some frustrations for the American before she ran out a 6-0 6-4 winner.

Despite taking a fall early in his match, Wawrinka was equally comfortable against Marsel Ilhan, the only Turkish man to have made a grand slam main draw.

“First grand slam is never easy, but I’m happy the way I played,” the Swiss said.

Kei Nishikori also had few problems, enjoying a 6-4 7-6 6-2 victory over former top-10 player Nicolas Almagro, who is on the comeback trail after foot surgery in June.

Eighth-seeded Canadian Milos Raonic also advanced, 7-6(3) 7-6(3) 6-3 over qualifier Illya Marchenko, though he admitted his laconic demeanour on court hid a tangled mess of high-strung nerves and personal demons.

Twice champion Victoria Azarenka, unseeded after an injury-ravaged 2014, proved she was a dangerous floater in the draw as she got back to her banshee-screeching best, raising the decibel levels on Hisense Arena in a 6-3 6-2 win over American Sloane Stephens.

“Being an unseeded player, it’s not a surprise that I have a tough draw.”

The tournament does not get any easier for Azarenka, with a second-round clash against former world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who eventually outfought American teenager Taylor Townsend 7-6(1) 6-2.

– Reuters

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