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Novak Djokovic began his bid for a third straight Australian Open title with a straight-set victory and Maria Sharapova won 6-0, 6-0 to race into round two of the season-opening tennis Grand Slam tournament in Melbourne.
Top-seeded Djokovic of Serbia, who’s trying to become the first man to win the championship three years in a row since the professional era began in 1968, beat Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 yesterday on Rod Laver Arena, where he broke through for his first major title in 2008.
“Any achievement, especially if it’s part of history, would mean a lot to me,” the 25-year-old Djokovic, a three-time champion at Melbourne Park, said in a news conference. “We’ll see how far I can go. It’s too early to speak eventually about the title because there are many contenders.”
Second-seeded Sharapova, the 2008 champion and runner-up 12 months ago, sent 18 winners past fellow Russian Olga Puchkova. Sharapova, who pulled out of a lead-up tournament in Brisbane earlier this month with a collarbone injury, is seeking her fifth major championship after completing the career Grand Slam by winning last year’s French Open.
“Overall, I was happy with the way I started, considering I didn’t play any matches coming in,” said Sharapova, 25. “It’s tough to feel completely satisfied. You always want to improve on things and work on certain things that you feel will help you in the later rounds.”
U.S. Open winner Andy Murray of Britain starts his first major as a Grand Slam champion today against Robin Haase of the Netherlands, while four-time winner Roger Federer of Switzerland faces France’s Benoit Paire. Defending women’s champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus meets Romania’s Monica Niculescu while Serena Williams of the U.S. starts her quest for a third straight Grand Slam singles title against Edina Gallovits-Hall, also of Romania.
Venus Williams, the No. 25 seed, routed Kazakhstan’s Galina Voskoboeva 6-1, 6-0.
“It’s nice to spend less time on the court, and not be in long sets,” said the 32-year-old, who missed last year’s Australian Open for health reasons.
Williams, a runner-up in 2003, was diagnosed two years ago with Sjogren’s syndrome, an energy-sapping autoimmune disease. After dropping out of the top 100 at the start of last season, she recovered to make the London Olympics, winning doubles gold with her younger sister Serena.
No. 5 seed Tomas Berdych from the Czech Republic, whom Djokovic is projected to meet in the quarterfinals, defeated Michael Russell of the U.S. 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 as the tournament began under a clear sky and temperatures in the low 20s Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit). Fourth-seeded David Ferrer of Spain, who tuned up by winning a third straight Heineken Open title in Auckland last weekend, also advanced in straight sets.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Lleyton Hewitt of Australia was knocked out by No. 8 seed Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5, 6-3. Hewitt, making his 17th straight appearance in Melbourne, had his best performance in 2005, when he lost in the final to Marat Safin of Russia. Australia hasn’t had a homegrown champion in the men’s draw since 1976.
“I was pretty happy with my ball-striking,” Hewitt told reporters. “Moved pretty well. Just frustrated with the result.”
Juan Monaco of Argentina became the first seeded player to be eliminated, the No. 11 losing 7-6 (7-3), 6-1, 6-1 to 79th- ranked Andrey Kuznetsov of Russia. Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, runner-up seven years ago, beat Spain’s Albert Ramos in a five- set match that ended 43 minutes past midnight local time.
The only seed to lose on the women’s side was Mona Barthel, the No. 32 from Germany, who was beaten in three sets by Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan.
Sam Querrey, at No. 20 the highest-seeded American man in the singles draw, advanced to the second round with a four-set win over Spain’s Daniel Munoz-De La Nava. John Isner of the U.S., the world No. 13, withdrew from Melbourne last week with a knee injury while former world No. 1 Andy Roddick retired last season.
Women’s No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska earlier extended her winning streak in 2013 to 10 matches. Sixth-seeded Li Na of China beat Kazakhstan’s Sesil Karatantcheva, 6-1, 6-3. No. 9 Samantha Stosur of Australia also advanced.
Fourth-seeded Radwanska, who didn’t drop a set in tuning up by securing her 11th and 12th WTA Tour titles in Auckland and Sydney, beat Australia’s Bojana Bobusic 7-5, 6-0. No. 15 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia rebounded from her 6-0, 6-0 loss to Radwanska in the Sydney final four days ago by fighting back to beat local wild card Ashleigh Barty 3-6, 6-0, 6-1.
Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, won a first-set tiebreaker before overpowering Taiwan’s Kai-Chen Chang in straight sets. The victory ended Stosur’s run of five straight losses on home soil stretching back to last season.
“I feel very happy, a little bit relieved,” Stosur, 28, told reporters. “From here, hopefully I can loosen up a little bit and keep playing better and better.”
Other women’s seeds to win in straight sets were No. 5 Angelique Kerber of Germany, No. 11 Marion Bartoli of France and No. 13 and former French Open winner Ana Ivanovic of Serbia.
To contact the reporters on this story: Dan Baynes at Melbourne Park at firstname.lastname@example.org; Danielle Rossingh at the London sports desk at at email@example.com.
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