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Djokovic eases past his first Open test
11:06am Tuesday 15th January 2013 in Sport
NOVAK Djokovic could not hide his satisfaction after completing the first step on the road to a place in history at the Australian Open.
Bidding to become the first man in the Open era to win three successive titles in Melbourne, Djokovic hit the ground running to brush aside Paul-Henri Mathieu.
On his first appearance on Rod Laver Arena since his epic five-set triumph over Rafael Nadal 12 months ago, the world number one had a more straightforward afternoon, winning 6-2 6-4 7-5.
The first two sets were routine and although Mathieu upped his level as the match went on, Djokovic secured a break late in the third to move through to a meeting with American Ryan Harrison.
‘‘It was a good performance for a first round,’’ Djokovic said.
‘‘I felt I was in control of the match in the opening two sets.
Then, you know, he started playing better, striking the ball quite well from both sides on the baseline. I thought he was serving really precisely and really well.
‘‘It was tough to break. But in the end, that 11th game, I made some good shots, good points and managed to go through in straight sets.’’ With title challengers Roger Federer and Andy Murray not playing until today, Djokovic took the opportunity to send a message that he was not willing to give up his crown without a fight.
But although largely satisfied, he admitted there was still room for improvement.
‘‘There are some adjustments that I need to make and get a little bit sharper on the court,’’ he said.
‘‘But it’s expected in the first match that you’re still not 100 per cent on the court.’’ On a day largely free of upsets, fourth seed David Ferrer and fifth seed Tomas Berdych also advanced with ease.
Ferrer proved too strong for Belgian Olivier Rochus, winning 6-3 6-4 6-2 inside two hours, and Berdych had little trouble in dispatching American Michael Russell 6-3 7-5 6- 3.
With so much focus directed the way of Djokovic, Federer and Murray, Berdych is drifting under the radar. And it is a situation he is quite happy with.
‘‘It’s better for me,’’ he added. ‘‘Let’s leave all the pressure on them. You get so much pressure on the court, you don’t need it (off it) as well.’’ Several other seeds also progressed with varying degrees of difficulty.
Nicolas Almagro required five sets to see off American qualifier Steve Johnson, as did Fernando Verdasco, who hit back from two sets to one and a break down to beat David Goffin.
But 11th seed Juan Monaco could not join them in round two after going down in straight sets to Russia’s Andrey Kuznetsov.
The seeds continued to dominate in the evening session as number eight Janko Tipsarevic ended the hopes of home favourite Lleyton Hewitt.
Hewitt, making his 17th appearance in this tournament, had his chances, most notably when he established a 3-0 second- set lead having broken twice.
But the Serbian roared back to take the match 7-6 (7/4) 7-5 6-3.
Maria Sharapova led a host of challengers into round two with a ruthless demolition of Olga Puchkova.
There was little Russian solidarity on show as the second seed enjoyed a 6-0 6-0 doublebagel against an opponent who gave a faultless impersonation of a rabbit trapped in the headlights.
The win moved Sharapova a step closer to a potential thirdround shoot-out against Venus Williams and also dispelled any doubts over the state of her collarbone which she injured shortly before Christmas.
Sharapova may have been the first winner of the tournament but she was closely followed by Williams, who dropped just one game in brushing aside Galina Voskoboeva.