Roger Federer hits a backhand during his Australian Open first-round clash with fellow veteran Jürgen Melzer.

In what was meant to be a formality was anything but for some of Tennis’ greats on Monday, continuing the Australian Open’s daunting reputation towards the top ranked players coming off the pre-season.

World No. 1 Andy Murray managed to dispatch Ukraine’s Illya Marchenko in straight sets (7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-2), continuing his long quest for a maiden Open title in Australia after five bites at the cherry. But as the score line indicated, it wasn’t a pleasant affair.

“I didn’t move that well, that’s how it felt anyway, but sometimes that can also be down to the conditions as well,” Murray told reporters after the match.

Marchenko had Murray criticising himself during the match to prove even the best aren’t immune to a ripe challenger, forcing the soon to be knighted brit to admit “maybe (I) wasn’t reacting as quickly as I would have liked” to a faster ball in the hot conditions.

“Maybe also nerves there (for the) first round as well,” Murray said.

“Maybe it’s normal to feel a little bit slow on your feet or a bit heavy-legged in the first round.”

Just ask Japanese titan Kei Nishikori about early round jitters after being forced into a five setter in the heat of the day. The world no. five dropped the first set against Kuznetsov, and letting him back into the fourth.

“I should have finished that set,” Nishikori told reporters, admitting he was “a little bit slow to start today” in what was a “really tough match.”

“I didn’t quite play great tennis in the beginning, but especially in the fifth set I think I was really focused and played good tennis.

“(I’ll) try not to happen again, to play long match like this.”

The statisticians had Nishikori at 86 percent likelihood — based on career results, opponent difficulty and recent results — to win the match, while Murray almost certain — 99 percent — to win.

Comeback kid Roger Federer had a better time against former top-10 player Jurgen Melzer – current world no. 300, entering the main draw through the qualification process – though conceded match fitness after a six month injury hiatus was an issue.

The four-time Australian Open champion struggled to find his groove with an inconsistent serve and, admittedly some surprising nerves given the calm and collected lead up through the Hopman Cup in Perth.

“I was feeling nervous once the match actually started,” Federer told reporters after downing the Austrian 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 on center court. He was fine all day and during the warm up with Melzer, but found “it’s not as easy as I thought it was going to be” after hitting four frames in a row.

“Think I struggled for a while to find that groove, that rhythm and everything.

“Then you remind yourself how many times has it not been easy in the first round. Almost every time, except you get off a flyer and you keep rolling. But that’s not the whole time.

“I’m happy I was made to work today… I’m quite happy how I ended, which is most important.”

Fellow compatriot Stan Wawrinka also had a difficult time under lights, battling a three and a half hour five setter against world No. 34, Slovakian Martin Klizan 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 to set up a second round bout with world no. 30 Steve Johnson.

“(It) wasn’t my best tennis today, but was fighting, trying to stay in the game, fighting a lot,” the Swiss dynamo told reporters.

“He was playing well, he didn’t give me too much rhythm (and) he made me play not my best tennis.

“I’ m happy to get through, that’s the most important.”

On the women’s side, reigning champion Angelique Kerber is also happy to get through following a scare against Ukraine’ s Lesia Tsurenko after being forced into a three setter.

“I make (sic) a little bit easy mistakes in the second set, but she was playing actually not so bad,” Kerber told reporters.

“She played a really consistent match.

“I was trying just to go for it in the third set and just trying to play my game… that was the key for the match today.”

The open however claimed its first top seed scalp early in the piece when American Shelby Rogers took down world no. 4 Simona Halep — who’ s suffering tendinitis in her left knee — in straight sets 6-3, 6-1, boosting her confidence in what will be a tough draw.

“I’m kind of used to that, playing the seeds and playing big matches right off the bat,” the world no. 52 told reporters post match, adding she has always enjoyed playing on big courts with big crowds.

But for the local boys, things were looking up as Australia desperately seeks to win its home Grand Slam for the first time since Mark Edmonson defeated fellow compatriot John Newcombe to lift the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup in 1976. Australia’s Chris O’ Neill was the last female champion to lift the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup on home soil in 1978.

Bernard Tomic cruised to a 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci, while the hosts highest ranked player Nick Kyrgios looked comfortable dispatching Portugal’s Gaslao Elias 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in under 90 minutes, a great start to reserve some energy should he go into the second week.

“In general, if you happen to go deep, it gets pretty tiring,” Krygios told reporters, adding “getting it done quickly” it’s something he’s learnt after being “pretty banged up by the end of the first week.”

“So you just want to reserve that mental energy and other parts of your body as well.”

Endit

Source: Xinhua/NewsGhana.com.gh

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