Between them, they are the most prolific winners ‘down under’ in the draw, defending champion and world No1 Djokovic with five titles, No3 seed Federer with four titles from five finals. They also happened to be the two most prolific winners of titles last season, and contested three of its biggest titles, Wimbledon, the US Open and the World Tour Finals along with four other finals.
Their seedings predict that they will ride the draw all the way to an early 2016 meeting in the semis, too, and this opening day gave support to that prediction.
First Djokovic, playing in the heat of Melbourne’s Rod Laver arena in his rightful place immediately after fellow Australian Open champion, Serena Williams.
Djokovic had already hit the ground running this year with victory in Doha, and so hopes of an upset at the hands of teenager Hyeon Chung, were always slim, though the talented young Korean did keep the Serb on court for almost two hours.
Djokovic opened with a love hold, broke in the sixth, only to be broken straight back, but immediately broke again to leave himself to serve out the set, 6-3.
Djokovic raced to a 4-0 lead in the second before Chung held via eights deuces, but he was quickly down another set, 6-2. It looked all over when Djokovic broke in the opener of the third and held to love, but Chung continued to fight to the inevitable 6-4 conclusion in a spirited Australian debut.
Djokovic, who plays another teenager, the wild card Quentin Halys, in the second round, barely put a foot wrong, making 40 winners—10 of them aces—to 27 errors and winning 40 out of 45 first serves. Also notable, and impressive, was the Serb’s aggressive tactics: He made 15/15 points at the net. Perhaps he is taking a leaf out of the book of the man who beat him more than any other last year, Federer, ready to take the attack to the most offensive player in the draw.
Talking of the Swiss, his progress during the more conducive evening was even more seamless, though he played the lower-ranked Nikoloz Basilashvili.
Blink and you may have missed it, for although Federer is a famously quick player, his opponent opted to play fast and aggressive, too. The Georgian, 11 years Federer’s junior, played flat and fast, and Federer needed to be sharp during some quick-fire rallies.
The Swiss soon had a break for 4-1, and although broken back in the sixth, he quickly broke again and served out the set, 6-2.
In under an hour, Federer had the second set, 6-1, and broke twice in the third to complete a lively 72 minutes, 6-2.
His stats, like Djokovic’s, told a fine story: 33 points won out of 36 first serves; 31 winners to 20 errors; 12 points from 18 net rushes. Not bad for a man who won his first match here exactly 16 years ago.
To the relief of his many fans, and no doubt to the tournament organisers, Federer looked a very different player from the flu-affected one who made errors galore in losing the Brisbane final. He even impressed himself: “Very happy: the first round is never easy—never played him, it’s breezy, opening night session, a bit of a pressure situation, so I’m happy. It was a great match. I hope I can keep it up.”
Things are likely to be much tougher in the second round, when he takes on the charismatic and unpredictable tennis of 35-ranked Alexandr Dolgopolov, who beat Ricardas Berankis, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
As well as 34-year-old Federer, there was room for several more ‘mature’ seeds to shine.
In a battle between two former 30-year-old Australian finalists, No9 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Marcos Baghdatis, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, producing 13 aces and 39 winners. He next faces Australian 18-year-old Omar Jasika.
The 31-year-old No28 seed Andreas Seppi, who beat Federer in the third round last year, beat 30-year-old Teymuraz Gabashvili 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4, 7-6(10), in the longest match of the day, 3hrs40min.
No26 seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, age 32, beat the 34-year-old Paul-Henri Mathieu, while, in another clash of the over-30s, Nicolas Almagro beat Julien Benneteau after almost three hours, 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3, 7-6(1), hitting a jaw-dropping 38 aces among 78 winners. He next plays young Austrian No19 seed Dominic Thiem, who survived over three hours and four sets against Leonardo Mayer, 6-2, 7-6(6), 4-6, 7-6(0).
There were, too, no surprises for the No6 seed, 30-year-old Tomas Bercych, who has reached the quarters of the last five Australian Opens, making the semis in the last two years. He beat Yuki Bhambri, 7-5, 6-1, 6-2.
The No27 seed Grigor Dimitrov came through a tense second set to beat a man 10 years his senior, 34-year-old Paolo Lorenzi, 6-3, 7-6(8), 6-3, in two and a half hours. He next faces Marco Trungelliti, with the prospect of Federer on Friday.
American teenager Noah Rubin claimed the scalp of one of only two seeds to go out—No22 Ivo Karlovic retired in the third set—in his first tour-level win, beating No17 Benoit Paire 7-6(4), 7-6(6), 7-6(5). Ranked No328, he is the first player ranked outside the top 300 to beat a seed at a Grand Slam since Fernando Gonzalez defeated Dolgopolov in Wimbledon 2011.
The 19-year-old Rubin next faces French qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who beat Pablo Andujar, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-2.
One of the biggest stars on the Australian stage, No29 seed Nick Kyrgios, lived up to his billing to beat Pablo Carreno Busta 6-2, 7-5, 6-2. The 20-year-old hit 16 aces to win in just an hour and a half, and will now play 30-year-old Pablo Cuevas.
Kyrgios is joined in the second round by wild-card countryman, 18-year-old Jasika, who claimed his first tour-level win to beat Illya Marchenko.
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