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Rafa begins in style

Nadal dropped only five games as he swatted aside Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 in just over two hours
Rafael Nadal makes a backhand return to Bolivia's Hugo Dellien during their first round singles match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne on Tuesday

Agencies   |   Melbourne   |   Published 21.01.20, 09:39 PM

Top seed Rafael Nadal launched his bid for a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in style on Tuesday, but falling star Maria Sharapova hit a career low.

Nadal, one shy of Roger Federer’s Grand Slam mark, dropped only five games as he swatted aside Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 in just over two hours at a sunny Rod Laver Arena.

He joins Federer and defending champion Novak Djokovic in the second round in Melbourne as the Big Three look to tighten a stranglehold that has brought them all but one of the last 14 Australian Open titles.

Sharapova, playing on a wildcard as she wrestles with a shoulder problem, lost 3-6, 4-6 to Croatian 19th seed Donna Vekic, making her an opening-round loser at three straight Grand Slams for the first time.

Britain’s Johanna Konta, a two-time Slam semi-finalist, also fell at the first hurdle as she battles to overcome a knee problem, losing 4-6, 2-6 to unseeded Tunisian Ons Jabeur.

Second seed Karolina Pliskova got exactly what she needed in her 6-1, 7-5 victory over a determined Kristina Mladenovic to advance to the second round. Pliskova, a semi-finalist at Melbourne Park last year, was at her imperious best with her groundstrokes in a 25-minute first set she totally dominated despite a wayward serve.

Mladenovic, however, stepped up her game in the second, the 26-year-old Frenchwoman moving Pliskova around the court more and the Czech was forced to work harder for her points and improve a first serve that landed just 50% in the first set.

She upped that to 78% in the second and won the points that mattered to continue a perfect start to 2020 after she won the Brisbane International title last week.

Simona Halep overcame a wrist injury scare and a fiery opponent to prevail 7-6(5), 6-1 over big-hitting American Jennifer Brady in a tense first-round encounter. The Romanian fourth seed required a medical timeout after taking a nasty fall on her wrist late in the first set, but told reporters later that there was nothing to worry about.

Alexander Zverev reached the second round of the Australian Open with a 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory over Marco Cecchinato and promptly pledged to donate his prize money to the bushfire appeal if he lands a maiden Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park.

The 22-year-old seventh seed has not been in the best of form, however, so his further pledge of $10,000 for every match he wins in the tournament might work out to be a more realistic donation.

“Obviously I’m more fortunate than maybe other people are. Every cent can help the Australian people, the Australian animals, the Australian nature in general,” he said.

On a bumper day of 96 first-round matches, after rain wiped out half of Monday’s schedule, former US Open champion Marin Cilic and Milos Raonic both moved safely through.

Italy’s Fabio Fognini, two sets down against America’s Reilly Opelka when their match was suspended on Monday, returned to win it in five on Tuesday after a stormy encounter when both players argued furiously with the umpire.

“You’re pathetic. You give me one warning after one throw (of my racquet). He’s thrown his three or four times, bro,” Opelka, who stands 6ft 11ins to Fognini's 5ft 10ins, told the chair official.

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