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Nadal gets a free pass

Maria Sharapova, during her match against Bethanie Mattek-Sands, on Tuesday

Melbourne: Rafael Nadal got a free pass into the second round of the Australian Open when Bernard Tomic retired injured on Tuesday, a welcome reprieve from stifling heat that led one player to describe conditions at Melbourne Park as “inhumane”.

Australian Tomic, booed off Rod Laver Arena by his compatriots, blamed a groin injury for withdrawing having lost the opening set 4-6, leaving top seed Nadal to join fellow “Big Four” players Roger Federer and Andy Murray in securing his passage.

Tomic’s retirement, one of nine in the first round, left Nadal with less time on court than he would have liked, but the Spaniard said he would not be training any harder on Wednesday to compensate.

“On days like today (Tuesday), tomorrow (Wednesday) that will be very hot, it’s better to save little bit of energy,” he said.

Defending champion Victoria Azarenka led third seed Maria Sharapova and former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki over the first hurdle in the women’s draw, but there was only one topic of conversation on day two of the championships heat.

Federer, watched by the newest member of his coaching team Stefan Edberg, kept his usual cool in the hot conditions and eased into the second round with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 drubbing of local wildcard James Duckworth.

“It can become just a very mental thing and you just can’t accept that it’s hot,” the 17-time Grand Slam champion said of coping with the conditions.

“Just deal with it, because it’s the same for both. That’s basically it.”

Azarenka made a stuttering start to her bid for a third straight title when Swede Johanna Larsson kept her out in the sun for 106 minutes before Azarenka won 7-6 (2), 6-2 in the first match at Rod Laver Arena.

Azarenka, who meets Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in the next round, was not concerned by her first-set struggles.

“She played really well. I can’t say that I was surprised by that. She really went for her shots. The ball bounced a lot higher, which suited her. It took me a little bit of time to find my range,” Azarenka said.

Wozniacki, who beat Lourdes Dominguez Lino 6-0, 6-2, insists she is as hungry as ever to try to be a Grand Slam force once more.

The 23-year-old has not reached the quarter finals at one of the sport’s four biggest tournaments for two years.

She said: “I think I’m in a very good place in my life right now, on the court and off the court. I know what I want. I want to improve all the time. I want to be the best.”

Former Melbourne Park champion Sharapova, also on the comeback trail after a shoulder injury, took on American Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the final match of the day on the main showcourt.

Mattek-Sands retained her distinctive knee socks, and Sharapova’s progress was not as slick as her own sleek dress, but the Russian wrapped up a 6-3, 6-4 victory in one hour 39 minutes.

Wimbledon champion Murray had other things on his mind besides the weather and was clearly delighted with his clinical 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Go Soeda in just his third competitive match since returning from four months on the sidelines after back surgery.

“I didn’t expect to play as well as I did today, but the signs have been good in practice,” the fourth seed said. “I started the match off very well and did everything solid.

“It was my first Grand Slam match since (returning from) back surgery. So, I was taking nothing for granted. I am really happy to win in straight sets.”

Juan Martin del Potro, the fifth seed, had considerably more difficulty with his first-round opponent, and needed more than three hours to get past American qualifier Rhyne Williams 6-7(1), 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

That Lleyton Hewitt was involved in one of the longest matches of the day surprised no one, but the former world No. 1 ended up a 7-6 (4), 6-3, 5-7, 5-7, 7-5 loser to Italian Andreas Seppi despite coming back from two sets down to hold a match point.

India’s campaign in the singles event came to an end after Somdev Dev Varman went down to 26th seed Feliciano Lopez of Spain in straight sets in the opening round.

The Indian showed a lot of fighting spirit before going down 4-6, 4-6, 6-7(2) to the world No. 27 in a two-hour and 13 minutes contest at the Melbourne Park. Somdev had lost in the second round of the men’s singles in 2013.