Australian Open, Day 1: ‘Nice to be playing normal tennis’, says Roger Federer after first round win

Wins also for top seeds Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber, and stars such as Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori.

Roger Federer is hoping to become the second oldest player to win the Australian Open in the Open era. Aaron Favila / AP Photo
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Swiss 17-time grand slam champion Roger Federer won his first match at the Australian Open on Monday after coming off a injury-blighted 2016.

Federer downed his one-time junior rival Jurgen Melzer of Austria 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in 2hr 6min on Rod Laver Arena.

The Swiss 17th seed will now play American qualifier Noah Rubin in the second round.

“It’s nice to be playing normal tennis again and I couldn’t be happier to be back,” said Federer, who missed the second half of last season through injury. “I hope I can stick around for a bit longer yet.”

Federer, at 35, is bidding to become the second oldest man in the Open Era to win a grand slam title after Australian Ken Rosewall.

The 17-time grand slam champion, playing in his 69th major, is seeded 17 at this year’s Australian Open after a knee injury restricted him to just seven Tour events last year.

Federer dropped out of the world’s top 10 rankings for first time in 734 weeks or over 14 years last November and his 17th ranking is his lowest position since May 2001.

He fell behind to an early break against Melzer in the opening set but once he gained his playing rhythm he broke back and then again in the 11th game.

Melzer, who grew up in the juniors with Federer, levelled the match taking the second set.

But the Swiss legend whipped through the third set in 28 minutes with the Australian crowd cheering his every winning point.

Federer finished off in style with two breaks of serve to run a convincing winner.

Murray concedes not playing well

Andy Murray said he will never give up in his quest for an elusive Australian Open title after grinding out a hard-earned win over Illya Marchenko in the first round on Monday.

The world No 1, who has lost five Australian finals – four of them to his key rival Novak Djokovic – carved out a 7-5, 7-6, 6-2 victory in 2hr 47min on Rod Laver Arena.

It was an unforgiving workout for the British top seed, who fought back after a wobbly beginning to wear down his 93rd-ranked Ukrainian opponent in draining heat.

Murray will take on Russian qualifier Andrey Rublev in the second round.

But Murray said he was far from daunted by the challenge in Melbourne, saying he has played some of his best tennis at the tournament over the years.

“I have had a lot of tough losses here, for sure. But I love it here. I love playing here,” he said. “I played some of my best tennis on hard courts here. Played some great matches as well, but just haven’t managed to win the final.

“But I keep coming back to try. Yeah, I’ll keep doing that until I’m done.

“I still feel like I got a few years left to try and do it. Yeah, hopefully it will be this year.”

The world No 1 began shakily with three double faults and along with an unforced forehand error he dropped his opening service game.

He said his slow start was down to a number of factors.

“I don’t think it was the best match, to be honest. The conditions were pretty different to what we’ve been practising. Last week’s been pretty cool,” Murray said.

“When it’s like that, the ball is bouncing a bit lower, a bit easier to control the ball. I was a bit tentative because of that.

“And I didn’t serve that well either. So you end up having to work really hard on a lot of your service games when it’s like that.”

Up-and-down Kerber clears first hurdle

Defending champion and top seed Angelique Kerber battled her nerves and faltered badly with victory in sight before finally overcoming Lesia Tsurenko 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 to reach the second round.

The 28-year-old German was starting the defence of a major title for the first time and initially struggled with her serve and the accuracy of her groundstrokes on Rod Laver Arena.

Once she found her range, however, Kerber proved more than a match for world No 51 Tsurenko, who was reduced to scrapping to save her serve and the odd pearl of a consolation point off her rasping backhand.

The German’s nerves returned when Kerber was serving for the match, however, and the world number one started ballooning shots all over the place, allowing her Ukrainian opponent to break back for 5-5.

Tsurenko grasped her opportunity with both hands and broke the Australian and U.S. Open champion again after a marathon nine-minute game to send the match into a decider.

The third set developed into a battle of wills but Kerber grabbed the key break for a 4-2 lead before rattling off the next two games to set up a second round tie against compatriot Carina Witthoeft.

Who will win Australian Open: Our staff predictions

Wawrinka gets ‘fright’ from Klizan

Former winner Stan Wawrinka survived a massive first-round scare to edge Martin Klizan in a five-set thriller.

Wawrinka, a three-time grand slam champion, fought back from a break down in the final set to overhaul the 35th-ranked Slovak, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 in 3hr 24min on Margaret Court Arena.

Tensions ran high in the final set when Wawrinka slammed a ball at a defenceless Klizan, who had conceded the point after a rally and was standing at the net.

The Swiss fourth seed quickly jumped the net to offer his apologies as Klizan sunk to his haunches in pain.

“It was a big fright tonight, he’s a tough player who pushes a lot and I am very happy to get through,” Wawrinka said. “I was fighting a lot and I never give up but it was most important to get through.”

Wawrinka, who beat Rafael Nadal to win the 2014 Australian Open, will next play American Steve Johnson.

Venus bridges age gap to reach second round

Veteran campaigner Venus Williams dug deep to grind her way into the Australian Open second round, beating plucky Ukrainian youngster Kateryna Kozlova in two gruelling sets.

The world No 17, who played her first Australian Open in 1998 and turned professional in 1994 – the year her opponent was born – came through the near two-hour marathon 7-6, 7-5.

“It’s never easy playing the first round,” said the American, who turns 37 this year and is competing in her 73rd major, extending her Open-era record. “I was just trying to find my rhythm. She didn’t make it easy so I’m happy to be through.”

Nishikori survives five-setter

Japan’s Kei Nishikori called for changes to the Davis Cup format after coming through a gruelling five-set dogfight in his opening match at the Australian Open on Monday.

The fifth seed was on court for three-and-a-half hours in sapping heat before he completed a 5-7, 6-1, 6-4, 6-7, 6-2 win over 48th-ranked Russian Andrey Kuznetsov to maintain his unbeaten record in five-set matches in Melbourne.

Nishikori has pulled out of Japan’s Davis Cup tie against France in Tokyo the week after the Australian Open, blaming the scheduling of the teams event.

“I’m not playing because of the schedule, it’s gonna be too tight,” Nishikori said.

“Going to South America, Rio and Buenos Aires, and if I play Davis Cup, that’s way too much for my body and Indian Wells and Miami [tournaments] are coming up after. So I just decided not to play.”

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