World number one Rafael Nadal blitzed past Hugo Dellien on Tuesday (January 21) to launch his campaign to equal Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles, dropping just five games in the one-sided annihilation.
The sparkling Spaniard was in imperious form to sweep past a Bolivian making his Australian Open debut 6-2 6-3 6-0 on Rod Laver Arena in barely two hours.
The Mallorcan, the first man to be world number one in three different decades, is not only seeking to match great rival Federer’s Slam mark but become the first man in the Open era to win all four Majors at least twice.
It is a big ask for the 33-year-old, who has only won the title once before at Melbourne Park, against a tearful Federer in 2009, with four runner-up finishes to his name.
“For me, it is a positive start. What you want is a first-round win and in three sets is even better. This court always brings me lots of positive energy,” said Nadal, who clubbed 38 winners and made only 21 unforced errors.
Meanwhile, wildcard entrant Maria Sharapova’s faltering career hit a fresh low when the five-time Grand Slam champion was turfed out in the first round in straight sets.
The 32-year-old former world number one carried a haunted look at times in a 3-6, 4-6 defeat to Croatia’s 19th-seeded Donna Vekic.
There were flashes of the form that helped make Sharapova one of the most marketable women in sport, the 145th-ranked Russian coming back from 5-1 down in the first set.
But Sharapova, who was banned for 15 months for failing a drugs test at the 2016 Australian Open, succumbed in the first set in 36 minutes.
Playing on the centre court Rod Laver Arena — a sign of Sharapova’s enduring pulling power — she broke to go 3-1 up in the second set.
Sharapova admitted that she does not know if she will be back at the Australian Open next year. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” said the Russian, already ranked a lowly 145th, when asked by AFP if she would be back at Melbourne Park in 2021.
“It’s tough for me to tell what’s going to happen in 12 months’ time. Honestly, I’d give you the answer, I just don’t know” Sharapova, who won the Australian Open in 2008, was similarly vague about the months or even weeks ahead.
As for world number two Novak Djokovic, he survived a scare to join Roger Federer and Serena Williams in the season’s first major’s second round as heavy downpours caused chaos on Monday (January 20), forcing organisers to postpone a swathe of matches.
Defending champion Djokovic was made to sweat before beating Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff in four sets on the first day when fears over air pollution were replaced by the disruption caused by rain.
While play continued at the three stadiums with retractable roofs, half of the 64 scheduled matches were postponed, ensuring a big backlog for Tuesday.
“Throughout my career my serve was maybe a little bit underestimated because of the quality of the returns and the baseline play,” he told reporters late on Monday.
The 32-year-old came through a mid-match lapse against Struff, the world number 37, and said he was glad to have an early test as he goes for a record-extending eighth Australian Open crown.
“Historically I had a lot of success in the Grand Slams where I had a tough opponent in the first round because it gets me going from the beginning,” he said.
“I have to be alert, I have to be on a high level and I think I was. Of course, you can always play better and I expect myself to be better as the tournament progresses.”
(With inputs from agencies)