Ruthless Nadal, Wozniacki fly into Open round two

Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki in action during the match against Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck during the first round of Australian Open at the Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne January 14, 2019. — Reuters pic
Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki in action during the match against Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck during the first round of Australian Open at the Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne January 14, 2019. — Reuters pic

MELBOURNE, Jan 14 — A ruthless Rafael Nadal showed no mercy in a clinical first round thumping at the Australian Open today with fellow former champions Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber and Maria Sharapova also romping through.

The Spanish 17-time Grand Slam winner, who cut short his 2018 season to have surgery on a foot injury, cruised into round two of the year’s opening major 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 against Australian wildcard James Duckworth.

“Not easy to come back after a lot of months, especially against a player playing super aggressive on every point,” said the 2009 Australian champion, who showed no sign of any injury worries.

“The energy I feel in this place is fantastic,” he added

The second seed is bidding to become the first man in the Open era, and only the third in history along with Roy Emerson and Rod Laver, to win each Grand Slam on two or more occasions.

Roger Federer opens his title defence later against Denis Istomin.

The Swiss maestro, seeded three, has won the last two Australian Opens and is gunning for a record seventh crown and 21st Grand Slam title.

Former world number one Andy Murray also takes to the court for what could be his farewell match in Melbourne and potentially his last ever.

He tearfully revealed last week that severe pain from a hip injury was proving too much to bear and he planned to retire this year, hopefully at Wimbledon but possibly after the Australian Open.

Fifth seed Kevin Anderson progressed, as did NextGen Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas. But ninth seed John Isner became the first top seed to crash out.

The 6ft 10in (2.08m) Isner came out second best in the battle of the giants against 6ft 11in (2.11m) fellow American Reilly Opelka 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (8/6), 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/5).

World number three Wozniacki, who made her Grand Slam breakthrough in Melbourne last year, opened her defence with a convincing 6-3, 6-4 win over Belgium’s Alison van Uytvanck.

It was an emotional win for the Dane who is struggling with rheumatoid arthritis and she was in tears afterwards.

“Last year I had some special memories and just to be able to be back out here on Rod Laver Arena is something extremely special and emotional,” she said.

Good test

Second seed and 2016 champion Angelique Kerber was also impressive, sweeping past Slovenia’s Polona Hercog 6-2, 6-2.

Sharapova, a winner at Melbourne in 2008, signalled her intent with a rare 6-0, 6-0 double bagel demolition of Britain’s Harriet Dart.

Playing in her 15th Australian Open, the three-time finalist said she was pleased to go through so easily as she battles back from injuries.

“It was a good test for my leg, for my shoulder,” she said. 

“I’m still working through some painful days. But, you know, I felt like I did all the right things today in order to get through that match.”

Fifth seeded Sloane Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion who struggled in her warm-up tournaments in Brisbane and Sydney, got back to business with an easy two-set win against fellow American Taylor Townsend.

Eleventh seed Aryna Sabalenka, widely tipped as a potential future champion, also safely negotiated round one on a hot day. But Germany’s 14th seed Julia Goerges was knocked out, as was former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

Britain’s Katie Boulter, meanwhile, created a slice of history by becoming the first woman to win in a third set tiebreak — a new rule introduced to the Open this year.

Instead of playing to the death, third or fifth sets now go to a tie-break when the score reaches 6-6 and it becomes the first to 10.

It seemed Boulter wasn’t told, fist-pumping and walking to the net at 7/4 before being reminded of the new rule. She went on to beat Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (10/6). — AFP