Melbourne: Novak Djokovic served up only flashes of his best tennis on the opening day of the Australian Open but took a comfortable first step on the path he hopes will lead to an unprecedented hat-trick of titles at Melbourne Park in two weeks' time.
Perhaps keeping energy in reserve for the battles that lie ahead, the world No. 1’s workmanlike 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 victory over Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu on Monday summed up a day where the year’s first Grand Slam failed to really fire.
“It was a good performance for a first round,” said the top seed, who will play American Ryan Harrison in the second round. “There are some few adjustments that I need to make and get a little bit sharper on the court. But it’s expected in the first match you’re still not a 100 percent on the court.”
While Djokovic only roused himself when necessary, Maria Sharapova was ruthless as she swept aside any fears about her fitness with a thumping 6-0, 6-0 win over compatriot Olga Puchkova.
Venus Williams and China’s Li Na, both former losing finalists, also enjoyed emphatic wins to breeze into the second round, while in-form fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska extended her perfect start to the year to 10 matches.
Upsets are often the catalyst that jolt a tournament into life but Argentina’s Juan Monaco was the first seed to fall in the early evening and his 7-6, 6-1, 6-1 defeat was as much down to hand and leg injuries as Russian Andrey Kuznetsov.
Lleyton Hewitt did his best to produce another shock in front of a partisan night crowd but eighth seed Janko Tipsarevic brought a rapid end to the Australian's 17th appearance at his home open with a 7-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory.
With Andy Murray and Roger Federer not beginning their campaigns until Tuesday and Rafael Nadal absent injured, Monday was an opportunity for those players just outside the elite of the men's game to strut their stuff.
David Ferrer duly continued the form which won him a fourth Auckland Open title on Saturday to beat Olivier Rochus 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 while fifth seed Tomas Berdych also progressed with a 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 win over American Michael Russell.
Despite the record temperatures which have gripped Australia for the last couple of weeks, the Australian Open opened to a mild morning in Melbourne. There was nothing mild about Sharapova’s demolition of Puchkova on Rod Laver Arena, however, and the Russian powered her way into the second round in just 55 minutes.
Venus could meet Sharapova in the third round and proved she might be a handful for the second seed by winning 12 successive games to beat Kazakh Galina Voskoboeva 6-1, 6-0.
It was 10 years ago that Venus lost her only Australian Open final to her sister Serena, who gets her campaign underway on Tuesday.
Pole Agnieszka Radwanska, winner of back-to-back warm-up events in Sydney and Auckland, battled through a tricky first set and whipped through the second to beat Australian wildcard Bojana Bobusic 7-5, 6-0.
Mental fragility has contributed to Sam Stosur’s poor showings at her home Grand Slam and the ninth seed again failed to convince in a 7-6, 6-3 win over Chang Kai-chen of Taiwan.