MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic had a big, adoring crowd at Rod Laver Arena, and he knew exactly how to work it.
Writing “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” on a live TV camera lens with a felt-tip pen was the perfect way to sign off after his 15th consecutive win at the Australian Open.
Having the confidence to charm a crowd of thousands comes with experience — he has won the last two Australian titles and is aiming to be the first man in the Open era to win three in succession.
“Hello, everybody, it’s great to be back,” he said after his 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 win over Paul-Henri Mathieu of France, his first match at Melbourne Park since his epic five-set win over Rafael Nadal in last year’s final. “I have great memories. ... Twelve months ago, played a six-hour final. Thanks for coming and supporting me.”
David Ferrer, who took the No. 4 seeding when fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal withdrew because of illness and injury, had only a couple of hundred people watching in cavernous Hisense Arena on Day One at Melbourne Park. He opened with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Olivier Rochus.
Ferrer knows that without his compatriot in the draw, there’s a semifinal spot up for grabs, but he’s content to stay under the radar.
“Of course, Novak, Roger and Rafael and Murray — they’ve won Grand Slams. It’s very difficult for (another) player to win the first Grand Slam of his career. For me, I am trying to do my best.”
The four majors in 2012 were shared by Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray, the Scotsman who finally ended the 76-year drought for British men at the Grand Slam events by winning the U.S. Open. With Nadal out, the so called `Big 4’ has become the `Big 3,’ with nobody else in the top 10 given a realistic chance of winning.
Djokovic doesn’t have another Grand Slam winner in his half of the draw after his Serbian Davis Cup teammate Janko Tipsarevic ousted Australian veteran Lleyton Hewitt, a former U.S. Open and Wimbledon winner, in a night match.
“If you want my opinion, it’s that the top four, they are better,” Ferrer said. “The last years, they were in all the semifinals and finals.”
Federer, who has four Australian titles among his 17 majors, and Murray, who broke his Grand Slam drought by winning the U.S. Open, have their first-round matches today in what shapes as a blockbuster day session at Rod Laver Arena. Murray is against Robin Haase in the first match and Federer is against Benoit Paire of France in the third — women’s champion Victoria Azarenka takes on Monica Niculescu of Romania in between.
Congestion on center court means Serena Williams, the big favorite to win the women’s title, will play her first-round match at Hisense Arena against Romania’s Edina Gallovits-Hall, who is ranked No. 110.
Williams had a good look at the setting Monday, sitting in the stands with her coach Patrick Mouratoglou to watch older sister Venus win her opening match.
Serena, who is ranked No. 3 and has won 35 of her last 36 matches including titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the U.S. Open, had left long before Ferrer was to play the third match at Hisense.
The 30-year-old Spaniard drew polite applause rather than raucous cheering from the small crowd in a match punctuated by long periods of silence.
The second of the main courts at Melbourne Park can be eerily quiet when empty. It didn’t bother Ferrer that there was only a smattering of fans and red-and-yellow Spanish flags.
Ferrer is a four-time Grand Slam semifinalist. He’s a practical technician who became a multimillionaire through tennis. But he’s clearly no Nadal, who can rage like a bull on court.
“Rafael is more important because he is the best of the history of Spanish players,” Ferrer said. “Rafael is very important for the tour and for everybody. Anyway, he’s a ... very good friend for me. Of course, we miss him. Not just me, everybody.”
Fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych reached the 2010 Wimbledon final and beat Federer in the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open before losing to Murray.
He beat American Michael Russell 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 in his opening match Monday, and was content to let the top three men have all the attention.
“I would say it’s maybe even better for myself,” he said. “I mean, let’s leave all the pressure on them. You know, everybody’s talking how many Grand Slams this guy can win, that one.”
Four American men advanced Monday, led by No. 20 Sam Querrey, the highest-ranked U.S. man in the tournament after John Isner pulled out with an injury. Querry beat Daniel Munoz-de la Nava of Spain 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
Brian Baker fended off Russia’s Alex Bogomolov Jr. 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-7 (0), 3-6, 6-2; Tim Smyczek beat Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic 6-4, 7-6 (5), 7-5; and Ryan Harrison’s reward for beating Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 was a second-round match against Djokovic.
Among the other men’s seeds advancing were No. 10 Nicolas Almagro, No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka, No. 16 Kei Nishikori and No. 22 Fernando Verdasco, a semifinalist in Australia in 2009.
No. 11 Juan Monaco of Argentina lost to Andrey Kuznetsov of Russia 7-6 (3), 6-1, 6-1.
Tipsarevic thought he had to overcome the most difficult challenge of the day. Australia’s Hewitt, a two-time major winner and former No. 1, was playing his 17th consecutive Australian Open.
“Lleyton Hewitt is as tough as it gets for a first round Australian Open, first Grand Slam of the year,” he said. “With all the respect to all the other guys who are potential threats, I think this is as tough as it gets, knowing that he plays really good tennis here, knowing that he won Kooyong last week,” he said. “I cannot tell you how happy that I am.”
The first two women’s matches were over quickly, with No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova finishing off a 6-0, 6-0 win over Olga Puchkova in 55 minutes. She showed no signs of discomfort from a right collarbone injury that ruled her out of a tuneup tournament in Brisbane.
Sharapova has a potential third-round match against Venus Williams, who needed just an hour for her opening 6-1, 6-0 win over Galina Voskoboeva of Kazakhstan.
No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 6 Li Na, No. 9 Samantha Stosur, No. 11 Marion Bartoli and No. 13 Ana Ivanovic all won in straight sets, and 17-year-old American Madison Keys joined them in the second round when she beat Casey Dellacqua of Australia 6-4, 7-6 (0).
Venus Williams missed the 2012 Australian Open. She is returning from a seven-month layoff because of Sjogren’s syndrome, an illness that causes joint pain and fatigue.
“It’s hard to play the first match in a major, first thing of the year, and that can be a lot of pressure,” Williams said. “I did my best.”MORE IN Sports WireCOLUMBIA, S.C. — PJ Dozier had a career-high 21 points and No. Full StoryJay Cutler’s season is over and his time in Chicago might be, too. Full StoryThe star Patriots tight end is having surgery for a herniated disk in his back, a person with... Full Story
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