Australian Open: Osaka, Serena, Federer give winning start to Grand Slam

Full roster of matches began under smoke-free sky at Melbourne Park, with air quality rated as 'good'.

Australian Open, Roger Federer, Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Australia bushfires, Melbourne Park, Ashleigh Barty, Venus Williams, Coco Gauff,
Naomi Osaka, Roger Federer, and Serena Williams blazed to round two after surpassing their opponents in the Australian Open at Melbourne Park.

Reigning champion Naomi Osaka gave a winning start to her title defence at the Australian Open on Monday (January 20) as the season’s first Grand Slam kicked-off as scheduled after practice sessions were hit by smog from raging bushfires.

During the qualifying week, several players were left coughing and faced breathing difficulties, raising speculations about the sport’s first major to be postponed.

However, a full roster of matches began on time under a cloudy but smoke-free sky at the Melbourne Park, with air quality rated as ‘good’ and rain forecast.

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As for the Japanese, she emerged as an early winner after dismissing Czech Republic’s Marie Bouzkova 6-2 6-4 in 80 minutes, breaking a net fitting with one powerful serve in the process.

“It was really tough for me trying to control my nerves. It’s tough to play someone you’ve never played before in the first round of a Grand Slam,” said Osaka.

Also read: Australian Open: Djokovic, Williams lead tennis old guard into new decade

Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic will open his bid for an eighth title on Monday, while Serena Williams launched her latest attempt to match Margaret Court’s record 24 Grand Slam crowns.

The old stager blitzed the first set in 19 minutes with a quickfire demolition of Anastasia Potapova.

The 38-year-old American, who powered past the Russian teenager 6-0, 6-3 in 58 minutes, plays Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia or Han Na-lae of South Korea in round two.

The eighth seed’s daughter Olympia was sitting in the audience to cheer her mother.

“It was really special for me and her — I hope for her. I try to tell her I’m someone, you know but I am just known about town as Olympia’s mum — I love that,” Williams said.

Also read: Australian Open sets air pollution limit after bushfire smoke anger

Williams’ elder sister, 39-year-old Venus, faces rising star Coco Gauff, 15, who is looking to reprise her upset of the seven-time Grand Slam winner at Wimbledon last year.

Player anger over smog dominated the final days before the tournament, which is taking place after deadly bushfires ravaged large parts of the country.

Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic was forced to retire from her qualifier after a coughing fit, while Britain’s Liam Broady claimed “multiple” players needed asthma medication.

Smoke, cough, and tennis

“After I practised indoors I felt really bad with my lungs. I was coughing a lot had troubles breathing for a couple of hours,” said Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, the world number six.

Swiss great Roger Federer was one of the competitors who criticised a lack of communication from tournament officials, who were forced to suspend practice and delay qualifying.

“You have court calls, then you look at the haze and everything, it doesn’t look good. How far are we from that threshold of playing, not playing?” Federer said.

Also read: Comfortable Australian Open starts for Nadal, Williams

Tournament officials are closely monitoring pollution and will halt play and close the three main stadiums’ roofs if particulate matter suspended in the air hits PM2.5 200.

Australian world number one Ashleigh Barty, fresh from winning the Adelaide International on Saturday, is one of the main attractions on Monday when she plays Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko in an evening match.

Others on-court include sixth seed Tsitsipas and Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki, who is playing her last tournament before retiring.

Federer is seeking a 21st Grand Slam crown and his first since Melbourne Park in 2018.

But the Swiss star, who is targeting a seventh Australian title, is playing down expectations in his first competitive match of the year.

“He’s match-ready and I’m not. “I got to really make sure I get out of the gates quick,” Federer said of Johnson.

However, the Swiss great moved to round two after defeating Johnson 6-3 6-2 6-2.

“It gave us an opportunity to get together and get behind the country that so much needs it,” Federer said while speaking about the Rally for relief event after his victory.

Also read: Australian Open: Five men to watch in season’s first Grand Slam

(With inputs from agencies)

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