Australian Open 2020: Former champs Williams, Federer, Djokovic, Osaka score opening wins
Seeds Borna Coric, Denis Shapovalov, Sloane Stephens fall before rain washes out opening day
The packed Rod Laver Arena had a mouth-watering opening schedule, and as one of three roofed stadia at Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open, this magnificent venue was able to host all five of its matches.
But while those with day-session seats would watch three of the swiftest matches of the day, they had no reason to feel short-changed. For those three matches, lasting just three and a half hours in total, featured defending champion Naomi Osaka, seven-time champion Serena Williams, and six-time champion Roger Federer.
Those who also had evening tickets would revel in the home favourite and world No1 Ashleigh Barty and seven-time champion Novak Djokovic.
So in one day, on one court, there were four former Australian champions, all of them former No1s, and with the Australian darling, current No1 Barty, slotted into the mix.
Osaka, still only 22 years old and with two Major titles to her name, is aiming to become just the ninth woman to defend the Australian Open, and she would take 1hr 20mins to beat the 57-ranked Czech, Marie Bouzkova, 6-2, 6-4. She next plays the 41-ranked Saisai Zheng.
Then it was the turn of Serena Williams, hotfoot from winning her first title in three years, in Auckland, since she won her seventh Australian Open while pregnant with her daughter.
Now 38 years old, the mighty American has come within touching distance of a special record since claiming that 23rd Major title in Melbourne—reaching no fewer than four Major finals. But what she and many tennis fans desired was No24, which would equal the tally of Margaret Court.
In taking on teenager Anastasia Potapova, she played a woman 20 years her junior, and she gave her the lesson of her young life, a 58-minute trouncing, 6-0, 6-3. Williams made nine aces, 24 winners, 11 points at the net, and claimed her 350 Major match-win. It was also her 97th match in Melbourne—the most main-draw matches by a woman—in her 19th appearance at the tournament. Only one woman has played more often in Melbourne.
Sister Venus was making her 20th appearance on the second roofed court, Margaret Court arena, but the news for the oldest woman in the draw—Venus is 39—was not so good. She lost to the youngest in the draw, the remarkable 15-year-old Coco Gauff, who repeated her Wimbledon feat of last summer to beat the veteran, 7-6, 6-3.
Yet for all Serena’s rapidity through her match, it was not the fastest women’s contest of the day. Petra Kvitova, last year’s Australian runner-up, beat Katerina Siniakova in just 50 minutes, 6-1, 6-0, in a storm of 20 winners, and 11 winners at the net. She next plays Paula Badosa, who won in just 57 minutes.
Julia Goerges, unseeded here this year, cruised by Viktoria Kuzmova, 6-1, 6-2, in 56 minutes, and will now play No13 seed Petra Martic.
And while former champion Caroline Wozniacki did not do it in under an hour, the Dane, also unseeded, and in her last ever tournament, took apart Kristie Ahn, 6-1, 6-3.
The day schedule on Rod Laver Arena, though, was completed in the fastest men’s match of the day by six-time champion and world No3, Federer. The job was done, in relaxed style, in 1hr 21mins, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, against a man with the potential to cause a few difficulties.
Steve Johnson arrived in good form with a Challenger title to his name, but the big-serving, power-play of the American was not up to the speed and variety produced by Federer, who hit 34 winners, 11 aces and made 23 points at the net.
In stark contrast with Johnson’s two Challenger warm-up events, Federer had played just one exhibition set this season, but he was playing a record 21st Australian Open, and in the knowledge that he had not lost a first-round Major match since 2003.
It also played into Federer’s hands that the rain began to fall when he was already 4-1 up in the first set. The roof closed, and Federer’s outstanding record indoors ensured his rhythm was not affected: 6-3.
In the second set, the Swiss won 16 of the first 18 points for a 4-0 lead, and he took a two-sets lead after just 50 minutes. He completed his 98th match-win at Melbourne Park, 6-2, but if he is to make it a round 100, he will have to beat either the 40-ranked Filip Krajinovic or qualifier Quentin Halys, who were locked in a first-set tie-break when rain stopped play on the outside courts.
Beyond that, Federer’s first seed is one of the fast-improving young players on the tour, Hubert Hurkacz, who impressed at the ATP Cup with wins over Diego Schwartzman, Borna Coric and Dominic Thiem, and then reached the semis in Auckland last week. It is not an easy run to the fourth round for Federer, but he looks fresh, relaxed and fit: It will take a strong performance to deny him that 100th.
As for reaching the quarters—and it is worth remembering that the Swiss has fallen short of the semis only twice since 2003—he could play Marton Fucsovics rather than No13 seed Denis Shapovalov, who lost, 6-3, 6-7, 6-1, 7-6. The young Canadian played some superb tennis at the ATP cup to reach a career-high ranking last week, but the tense and nervy 20-year-old let a break in the fourth set slip to concede the match after three and a quarter hours.
However the other seed in this section, No18 Grigor Dimitrov, also fresh from a strong ATP Cup, came back from a set down to beat Juan Londero, 4-6 6-2, 6-0, 6-4.
There were also straight-set wins for No6 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, No8 seed Matteo Berrettini, No22 seed Guido Pella, plus Philipp Kohlschreiber, Sam Querrey—over No25 seed Coric—and Ricardas Berankis, while Briton Dan Evans, seeded at a Major for the first time, put in a sterling effort to come back from two sets down to beat, Mackenzie McDonald, and will next play Yoshihito Nishioka.
The seven-time champion Djokovic seemed to have things well under control in the last match on Rod Laver, but he was up against the dangerous German Jan-Lennard Struff, one of the highest-ranked unseeded players in the draw.
The defending champion went a break up in the first set, only to be taken to a tie-breaker. But with that won, he cruised to the second set, 6-2. However, the German’s aggressive brand of tennis worked two breaks against Djokovic in the third, making 14 winners to Djokovic’s seven, and he broke a third time for the set, 6-2.
But the Serb, who could reclaim the No1 ranking if he wins the title in Australia—if Nadal falls before the semis—regrouped quickly, and the accuracy, depth and variety of direction from Djokovic continued to take their toll in an exhausting test of Struff. The champion secured his 900th career match-win, 6-1, after two and a quarter hours.
Current No1 Barty cannot lose the top ranking in Australia, but she could become the first female champion on home soil since Chris O’Neil in 1978. She arrived in Melbourne with the Adelaide title but with a tricky opener against Lesia Tsurenko, whose ranking has slipped courtesy of an elbow injury since last summer.
The Ukraine player twice took the lead over an inconsistent Barty in the first set, breaking again to serve out the first set, 7-5. But her serve let her down badly as the match progressed, and Tsurenko would stack up nine doubles faults and 37 unforced errors for just nine winners.
Barty regrouped, found her rhythm and confidence, and dropped just two more games in the match, 6-1, 6-1.
Two women’s seeds would lose in the truncated Monday schedule: No24 Sloane Stephens lost to Shuai Zhang, 2-6, 7-5, 6-2, and No32 Barbora Strycova was beaten by Sorana Cirstea, 6-2, 7-6.
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge