Melbourne (Agencies): Serena Williams launched her latest bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam with a 56-minute demolition of Laura Siegemund at the Australian Open.
The American, 39, said it was “vintage Serena” as she thrashed the German 6-1 6-1 in front of a small, unmasked crowd on Rod Laver Arena. US Open champion Naomi Osaka also made a convincing start with a 6-1 6-2 win over Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
But former champion Angelique Kerber was the first seed to be knocked out. The German 23rd seed, who was one of 72 players to spend 14 days in ‘hard’ quarantine before the tournament – confined to a hotel room and unable to train outside – was beaten 6-0 6-4 by American Bernarda Pera.
Kerber, a three-time Grand Slam champion, said the quarantine had affected her form for the major. “You feel it, especially if you play a real match where it counts and you play against an opponent who doesn’t stay in the hard lockdown,” she said.
American 24th seed Alison Riske, who also did the hard quarantine, lost 6-2 6-1 to Russian world number 101 Anastasia Potapova. French Open champion Iga Swiatek raced into the second round with a 6-1 6-3 win over Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, but US Open quarter-finalist Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria lost 7-5 6-2 to Taiwanese Hsieh Su-wei. Hseih will next play Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, who beat Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2 4-6 6-3 in her first match for 15 months.
Second seed Simona Halep raced into the second round with a 6-2 6-1 win over Australian wildcard Lizette Cabrera in just 59 minutes. Czech Petra Kvitova, who was runner-up to Osaka in 2019, also advanced by beating Greet Minnen of Belgium 6-3 6-4.
Seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus was also victorious on the first day, beating Slovakia’s Viktoria Kuzmova 6-0 6-4.
Serena channels Flo-Jo in rapid win
Williams made a nervy start against Siegemund, double-faulting on the first point of the match before losing her opening service game.
However the American, who withdrew from last week’s Yarra Valley Classic semi-final with a shoulder problem, did not take long to find her footing. She hit 16 winners and four aces against 51st-ranked Siegemund, setting up a second-round meeting with Serbia’s Nina Stojanovic.
Williams wore a one-legged, black, pink and red catsuit, which she later said was a tribute to late American track and field icon Florence Griffith-Joyner.
“I was inspired by Flo-Jo, who was a wonderful track athlete, amazing athlete when I was growing up,” Williams said. “Watching her fashion, just always changing, her outfits were always amazing.”
Williams is joined in the second round by Osaka and her 40-year-old sister Venus, who beat Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens 7-5 6-2. Osaka will play France’s Caroline Garcia next, while the elder Williams sister faces veteran Sara Errani. Italy’s Errani beat 30th seed Wang Qiang, who stunned Williams in the third round last year, 2-6 6-4 6-4.
Djokovic, Kyrgios, Zverev & Thiem win, Monfils out
Melbourne: Novak Djokovic started the defence of his Australian Open title by dropping just six games in a dominant win over France’s Jeremy Chardy in Melbourne.
The Serbian top seed eased to a 6-3 6-1 6-2 victory to extend his 100% winning record against Chardy to 14 matches. Austrian third seed Dominic Thiem, German sixth seed Alexander Zverev and Australia’s Nick Kyrgios also won. But French 10th seed Gael Monfils broke into tears after being on the receiving end of the biggest shock so far. There appeared little danger of world number one Djokovic suffering an upset on Monday once the draw was made – and so it proved.
Chardy had never won a set against the 17-time Grand Slam champion and it was another chastening experience for the 33-year-old. Djokovic, who is aiming for a record-extending ninth title at Melbourne Park, hit cleanly and confidently in a one-sided win on Rod Laver Arena. “There is an ongoing love affair with me and this court. I wanted to start off well,” said Djokovic, who is set to pass Roger Federer’s record of 310 weeks as the world number one next month.
“I have been fortunate, without a doubt, to experience a lot of success and break records in our sport that I obviously love and am very passionate about it. “I am always motivated and inspired to achieve big goals and break records. I would lie if I say that’s not something that I’m thinking about or that my attention is not going that way.
“I have been very transparent about the fact one of the biggest goals is to try to reach the number one of all time weeks’ record, and I’m getting closer and closer to that one. “That’s a kind of a lifetime achievement for me.”
Kyrgios appreciates ‘special’ atmosphere
On what he also describes his favourite court, Kyrgios was at his entertaining best on John Cain Arena as he beat Portuguese qualifier Frederico Ferreira Silva. The home fans watching on court enjoyed seeing the 25-year-old produce some fun and effective tennis – as well as some audible frustrations directed at his team – in a 6-4 6-4 6-4 win.
An audacious drop-shot winner from between his legs as he approached victory in the third set was a particular highlight and led to a standing ovation from the socially distanced fans.
On the atmosphere, Kyrgios told the crowd: “It was special, I’m super appreciative of you guys coming out and it felt normal. I hope we can continue it.
“I thought my level was pretty average, I’ve not played a Grand Slam match in over a year.
“I was nervous and knew I wouldn’t be able to play anywhere near my best. I’m happy I got through.”