|Novak Djokovic after beating Lukas Lacko, on Monday
Melbourne: Novak Djokovic showed some early season rustiness but Serena Williams roared into the second round like a well-oiled machine as the tournament favourites took centre stage on the first day of the Australian Open on Monday.
Serena, looking for her sixth title, closed the evening on Rod Laver Arena with a 6-2, 6-1 demolition of local hope Ashleigh Barty after four-times champion Djokovic had overcome Lukas Lacko 6-3, 7-6(2), 6-1.
Earlier, there were shocks aplenty in the women’s draw with the biggest coming when sixth seed Petra Kvitova fell victim to Thai world No. 88 Luksika Kumkhum in front of a rapturous crowd on Margaret Court Arena.
There were upsets for two Italian seeds as well, Sara Errani beaten 3-6, 2-6 by German Julia Goerges and her doubles partner Roberta Vinci going down 4-6, 3-6 to China’s Zheng Jie.
Serena’s sister Venus Williams also bid an early farewell to the tournament when she blew a 3-0 lead in the deciding set to lose 6-2, 4-6, 4-6 to Russian Ekaterina Makarova.
Djokovic’s new co-coach Boris Becker will have raised an eyebrow with the 30 unforced errors the second seed served up as he opened his quest for a fourth straight title in Melbourne.
The Serbian always looked like cantering to victory in three sets, however, and 23 minutes after taking a tight second stanza by dominating the tiebreak, he was firing down his 10th ace for the win.
With temperatures forecast to soar well above 40 degrees Celsius from Tuesday onwards, there was good reason for the players to keep their time on court to a minimum and rest up for challenges to come.
Organisers on Monday reassured players their safety was paramoun, saying no-one had ever died from extreme heat at a tennis tournament while warning of the dangers of over-drinking. “Tennis, as a sport, is relatively low risk for major heat problems, compared to football and continuous running events,” the tournament’s chief medical officer Tim Wood said.
“Certainly, in the next four days, the players will have plenty of chance to acclimatise. The body does put in measures that assist in coping with the heat, so if anything, the players will acclimatise with playing in the heat. They might actually get better, particularly with the 48 hours’ rest between matches.”
Wood said there has never been anybody who has died from dehydration on a tennis court.
Even in the cool of the evening, Serena showed no signs of wanting to hang around and 17-year-old Barty looked like a lamb heading for the slaughter.
Serena, who hit 31 winners, feasted on the teenager’s second serve and even dominated at the net, suggested that she herself was the biggest obstacle to her title ambitions. “I just don’t want to get in my way. I just have to stay out of my way and I’ll be fine,” she said.
“As long as I’m able to stay relaxed, I’ll be okay.”
Thai Luksika was far from relaxed as she looked to close out her victory over Kvitova but was soon bowing to all corners of the stadium having sealed the biggest win of her career 6-2, 1-6, 6-4. “I was really excited to be here, feeling good,” said former Wimbledon champion Kvitova. “I think that probably I wanted (it) too much, and then everything just fell down.”
Fourth seeded Chinese Li Na never came anywhere near being upset as she dispatched teenager Ana Konjuh 6-2, 6-0 to set up a meeting with another 16-year-old, Swiss Belinda Bencic.
Bencic beat 43-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in a battle of generations — the 27-year age gap between the two the widest at a grand slam since a 47-year-old Martina Navratilova was beaten by 19-year-old Gisela Dulko at Wimbledon in 2004.
Local hopes in the women's draw rest largely with Sam Stosur and the 2011 US Open champion made a reasonable start on Monday, gaining revenge for a semi-final defeat in Sydney last week with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Czech Klara Zakopalova.
Ferrer sprinted to a 5-0 lead in the first set before being drawn into a scrap with Colombian Alejandro Gonzalez but still ground out a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory.
“The most important thing is to win. Today maybe I didn’t play my best tennis, but I won,” said Ferrer.
Swiss Wawrinka, Djokovic’s potential quarter final opponent, had the easiest passage when Kazakh Andrey Golubev retired while trailing 6-4, 4-1.
German Tommy Haas, seeded 12th, also retired with a shoulder injury while losing to Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in his first round match.