Djokovic has routine win as Australian Open finally gets underway


MELBOURNE: Novak Djo­ko­vic served a reminder of why he’s the greatest Austra­lian Open champion in history as he demolished France’s Jeremy Chardy in straight sets in round one on Monday.

The eight-time winner’s 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 win showed that normal service had resumed at Rod Laver Arena after the year’s first Grand Slam was delayed three weeks over the coronavirus.

Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep also enjoyed convincing wins as the tournament finally got underway in front of limited crowds after a troubled build-up.

“It feels great, so great to see people back in the stadium,” Djokovic said. “This is the most I’ve seen on a tennis court in 12 months.”

Form and fitness are highly unpredictable at the Austra­lian Open after the coronavirus wiped out five months of last season and badly disrupted preparations for the first Grand Slam of 2021.

But Djokovic left little doubt about his readiness to pursue a record-extending ninth title in Melbourne, breaking in the first game and completing the victory in 91 minutes.

The Australian Open was postponed to allow players to quarantine and play warm-up events, which were suspended for a day last week after a coronavirus case at a tournament hotel.

After the tortuous build-up, third seed Osaka struck the first serve on the centre court against Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and strode just 68 minutes later as a 6-1, 6-2 winner.

“I was really nervous coming into this match. I just wanted to play well,” Osaka told a smattering of spectators on the socially-distanced court.

Serena kickstarted her bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title with a 6-1, 6-1 drubbing of Germany’s Laura Siegemund and two-time major winner Halep opened the night session on the main show court with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Australian wild-card entry Lizette Cabrera.

Bianca Andreescu was made to work hard on her return to competition after 15 months, but the 2019 US Open winner dug deep to see off Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.

Joining them in the second round were seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and French Open winner Iga Swiatek.

Venus Williams, a seven-time major winner, won a Grand Slam match for the first time since 2019, beating Kirsten Flipkens 7-5, 6-2.

But Angelique Kerber, the 2016 Australian Open winner, was the first significant casualty of the women’s championship when the 23rd-seeded German lost 6-0, 6-4 to 63rd-ranked American Bernarda Pera.

In the men’s draw, US Open champion Dominic Thiem was made to work hard in the first set by Kazakh veteran Mikhail Kukushkin before coming through 7-6 (7-2), 6-2, 6-3.

Nick Kyrgios treated the sparse crowd at the John Cain Arena to some vintage mom­ents — a racket thrown across the court, and a few choice words towards his box and the umpire — as he sailed to a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory over qualifier Frederico Ferreira Silva.

Alexander Zverev overcame an inconsistent start and a smashed racket to battle past unheralded American Marcos Giron 6-7 (8-10), 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 6-2.

Also advancing were 14th seed Milos Raonic, former champion Stan Wawrinka and Americans Reilly Opelka, Taylor Fritz and Frances Tia­foe, who next play Djokovic.

But Gael Monfils, the French 10th seed, lost a marathon against Emil Ruusuvuori 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 in a teary, early exit.

Japan’s Kei Nishikori also fell at the first hurdle with a straight-sets defeat to Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain.