Djokovic, Williams post Australian Open wins
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP):
The record will show that six-time Australian Open champions Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic each had straight-set wins.
It may seem straightforward, but it was not routine. Newly-engaged Williams, aiming for an Open-era record 23rd major title, and Djokovic, bidding to become the first man to win seven Australian titles, confronted former top-10 players in the first round at Melbourne Park.
And so there was no chance for the No. 2-ranked players, in the recently unaccustomed position at the foot of the draw, to feel their way into the season's first major.
Djokovic faced Fernando Verdasco, who beat Rafael Nadal in the first round last year and who had five match points in their last head-to-head encounter - only 10 days earlier.
Djokovic held off the Spanish left-hander in a 71-minute, momentum-swinging second set before winning 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-2 yesterday. The first and third sets were great, he said, but the second was "a gamble."
"I'm very pleased with the first round, considering I had one of the toughest first-round draws, definitely considering his form," Djokovic said. "He's a quality player. He's a big match, big-time player."
The 33-year-old Verdasco peaked at No. 7 in the rankings in 2009, not long after he pushed eventual champion Nadal in five sets in one of the best and latest-finishing semi-finals ever at the Australian Open.
"From one perspective it was good that I got to have the very tough first-round match, because it made me prepare better and kind of approach the tournament with the right intensity, right from the first point," Djokovic said.
Williams, on the comeback after a stint on the sidelines following a U.S. Open semi-final loss, took a 5-0 lead in the second set against Belinda Bencic.
But Bencic has been ranked in the top 10, and was seeded 12th in Melbourne last year. She applied pressure on Williams, who made mistakes on key points - including a double-fault to give Bencic a break point, and another on her first match point - before recovering to win 6-4, 6-3.
Williams became engaged to Alexis Ohanian during the holiday break, and the Reddit co-founder was in the crowd at Rod Laver Arena. She has been asked repeatedly about her wedding plans since arriving in Australia, but only gave a time frame for that discussion after her opening match.
"February I'll start looking at the bigger picture of my life," she said. "Right now, I'm just so focused that this is kind of all I can think about."
Nadal, also returning from a couple of months on the sidelines following the U.S. Open with an injured left wrist, has already improved on 2016.
"I'm happy to do an interview with you - last year, I didn't have the chance!" Nadal said in his on-court interview after a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Florian Mayer.
As usual at Melbourne Park, the heat was a factor. The thermostat reached almost 38 degrees Celsius on a day when Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic beat Dustin Brown.