Playing his first Grand Slam match as a major winner, Andy Murray looked quite comfortable in his return to the Australian Open.
Murray beat Robin Haase of the Netherlands 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 in the opening round at Melbourne Park on Tuesday as some of the biggest names in the men’s side, including Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, advanced with ease.
Asked what it felt like to play after his triumph at the U.S. Open, where he became the first British man since 1936 to win a major title, the third-ranked Murray said: ”I can try and focus on the second part of my career now.”
The 25-year-old Murray seemed more at ease and relaxed than he has been in previous trips to the season’s first major.
”It was a good start, nice to win in straight sets,” he said. ”It was the hottest day we’ve had for a while so the court was playing much quicker.”
After a record heat wave early last week, the last few days in Melbourne have been cool. The temperature was heading toward 84 degrees when Murray was on Rod Laver Arena.
It’s been 12 months since Murray started working with eight-time major winner Ivan Lendl, and he attributes much of the success in his breakthrough 2012 to his partnership with his new coach.
It’s relaxed ”in front of the cameras, yeah,” Murray joked. ”Behind closed doors he works me very hard.
”We’ve had a very good relationship so far. He’s very honest, very open. He doesn’t lie to you, he tells you exactly how it is and that’s exactly what I needed.”
Federer opened the campaign for his 18th Grand Slam title by beating Benoit Paire 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 on Tuesday. The No. 2-seeded Federer dictated the match, sending his 23-year-old French opponent chasing balls around center court.
Down 3-0 in the third set, Paire tumbled and skidded into the net as he tried and failed to reach a shot.
Federer, 31, is bidding for his fifth Australian Open title.
The Swiss star landed in the same half of the draw as Murray, meaning they could potentially meet in the semifinals. Federer could face a final against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who is aiming for a third consecutive Australian Open title.
Former finalist Tsonga cruised to a 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 win over fellow Frenchman Michael Llodra, hitting a backhand drop half-volley at the net, then powering a forehand to the open court on match point to advance to the second round.
Tsonga, seeded seventh, had his best result in a Grand Slam when he made the final of the 2008 Australian Open, losing to Novak Djokovic in the title match.
Also, former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro advanced to the second round with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win over French qualifier Adrian Mannarino. The sixth-seeded del Potro, who beat Rafael Nadal in the 2009 US Open semifinals and Roger Federer in the final, had a strong 2012 with four titles in five finals after recovering from the right wrist injury that kept him on the sidelines for most of 2010.
In other men’s matches, No. 13 Milos Raonic of Canada, who beat Jan Hajek 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 7-6 (0), No. 14 Gilles Simon, No. 17 . Philipp Kohlschreiber, No. 21 Andreas Seppi and No. 25 Florian Mayer advanced.
Local hope Bernard Tomic, who beat Djokovic at the Hopman Cup two weeks ago, defeated Leonardo Mayer of Argentina 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 in a night match. Tomic has been on a New Year’s high after winning his first ATP tournament on Saturday at the Sydney International.
Frenchman Gael Monfils beat No. 18 Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine 6-7 (7), 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-3, and Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen ousted No. 19 Tommy Haas 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 8-6.
On the women’s side, Victoria Azarenka opened the defense of her Australian Open title with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Monica Niculescu of Romania.
Azarenka powered to a 4-0 lead in the opening set over Niculescu, who is winless in singles tournaments on the WTA Tour.
The top-seeded Azarenka was down a service break and trailed 3-0 in the second set before coming back to level the set at 4. She then broke Niculescu’s serve in the ninth game before serving out Tuesday’s match.
Azarenka could meet No. 3 Serena Williams, who also won Tuesday, in the semifinals at Melbourne Park.
But the win was not without consternation for Williams, who overcame a right ankle injury to win her first match at the Australian Open, routing Edina Gallovits-Hall 6-0, 6-0 on Tuesday.
With the match 19 minutes old and Williams leading 4-0, the 15-time major winner fell to the court awkwardly, clutching her right ankle. She was helped to her court-side chair and her ankle was heavily taped by a WTA trainer.
The third-seeded Williams, attempting to win her third consecutive major title, returned to the court and won the next four points, then held service to take the opening set before again receiving treatment.
She dominated the second set, allowing the Romanian player to win just six points.
A record was sent in another of the women’s matches, as 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm upset No. 12-seeded Nadia Petrova of Russia 6-2, 6-0. The Japanese veteran, who last played in this tournament in 1996, became the oldest woman to win a singles match at Melbourne Park with the victory. After the match, she fielded a variety of questions about her secret to longevity in a sport filled with women half her age.
”Some players’ mothers are younger than me,” she laughed. ”So it’s like (they’re) my daughter.”
Her advice to keeping fit: ”I sleep a lot. I eat healthy foods. I drink a lot,” she said. Bedtime is usually before 10. ”It’s a simple life, that’s it. Nothing special.”
Date-Krumm, who is married to German race car driver Michael Krumm, took a 12-year break from tennis and returned in 2008.
Since her comeback, she has failed to advance beyond the second round of a Grand Slam. But she has amassed a number of ”oldest player” records. Among them: At 39, during the 2010 French Open, she became the oldest player to beat a Top 10 player. She then beat her own record later that year in Osaka after turning 40.
And former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki won the last six games to beat Sabine Lisicki of Germany 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, in what was apparently no ordinary first-round match, at least in the eyes of Wozniacki’s boyfriend, golf superstar Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy got up at 3 a.m. to watch from Abu Dhabi, where he’s preparing to play in this weekend’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championships. He was coming off a busy day himself after the announcement of his lucrative multi-year contract with Nike.
Of course, the multimillion dollar golf contract became a topic of conversation.
”It wasn’t really a big surprise to me. I kind of knew,” she said to laughter in the interview room. ”I felt bad for him because I think he went to bed at midnight their time and woke up at 3 and watched me and then back to sleep for a couple of hours. That’s a true fan.”
And perhaps it was just the win Wozniacki needed to battle her way back into the upper tier of women’s tennis.
”Today, I had to get my fighting spirit up and fight back,” she said, ”and it paid off.”
Also, former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova also advanced to the second round with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 victory over Italy’s Francesca Schiavone. Kvitova has struggled at the start of her 2013 season, losing 6-1, 6-1 to Dominika Cibulkova in the first round last week at the Sydney International and losing in the second round the week before in Brisbane.
But she regrouped after losing the second set to Schiavone, the 2010 French Open champion, breaking the Italian twice to capture the decider. Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon winner, reached the semifinals at Melbourne Park last year, losing to Maria Sharapova.
Former U.S. Open and French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova continued her comeback from a knee injury that kept her out of the U.S. Open, ending her run of 40 consecutive majors. Also, No. 14 Maria Kirilenko had a 6-4, 6-2 win over American Vania King, and China’s Peng Shuai beat Canada’s Rebecca Marino 6-3, 6-0.
Additionally, No. 16 Roberta Vinci, No. 17 Lucie Safarova and No. 29 Sloane Stephens, the American teenager who beat Simona Halep of Romania 6-1, 6-1, all advanced. No. 20 Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium beat local hope Jarmila Gajdosova 6-1, 7-5 in the last of the night matches.
However, two seeded players did lose in the evening session: American Julie Hampton beat No. 31 Urszula Radwanska of Poland 6-2, 6-4 while Ukrainian qualifier Lesia Tsurenko defeated No. 24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia 7-5, 3-6, 7-5.
Novak Djokovic started his bid for a third consecutive Australian title on Monday, posting a 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 win over Paul-Henri Mathieu.
”Hello, everybody, it’s great to be back,” he told the big crowd after his first match at Melbourne Park since his epic five-set win over Rafael Nadal in last year’s final. ”I have great memories.”
David Ferrer, who took the No. 4 seed when fellow Spaniard Nadal withdrew because of illness and injury, had only a couple of hundred people watching in cavernous Hisense Arena on Day 1. He opened with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Olivier Rochus of Belgium.
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,” he said. ”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 majors in 2012 were shared by Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer and Murray, the dominant four men in recent years.
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.
Murray is in the same half of the draw as Federer, who was opening against Benoit Paire of France on Rod Laver Arena immediately after women’s champion Victoria Azarenka played Monica Niculescu of Romania.
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.
That’s the same court where her older sister, Venus, opened with a straight-set win Monday to move closer to a potential third-round match against No. 2 Maria Sharapova, who won her first match 6-0, 6-0 in 55 minutes.
Also advancing were No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 6 Li Na, No. 9 Samantha Stosur, No. 11 Marion Bartoli and No. 13 Ana Ivanovic and 17-year-old American Madison Keys.
On the men’s side, fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych, the 2010 Wimbledon finalist, beat American Michael Russell 6-3, 7-5, 6-3.
Four American men also 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. Querrey beat Daniel Munoz-de la Nava of Spain 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
The others were Brian Baker, Tim Smyczek and Ryan Harrison, whose reward for beating Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 was a second-round match against Djokovic.