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Serena, Nadal & Djokovic Shine In Opening Matches

Williams, a 22-time Grand Slam champion and the No.2 seed behind Angelique Kerber on the women’s side, took advantage of a mid-match surge, reeling off seven games in a row from 4-all in the first set to build a 6-4 5-0 lead and eventually closing out former No.7 Belinda Bencic, 6-4 6-3.

“She’s a really good player, so I think I was able to start out well,” Williams, who improved to 65-1 in her career in the first round of Grand Slams, said afterwards. “I made a few errors on some key points, but for the most part, I still was going for everything, and I was able to close it out.”

Next up for Williams will be former No.5 Lucie Safarova, who pulled off a miraculous 3-6 7-6(7) 6-1 victory over Yanina Wickmayer. She saved nine match points in a dramatic second set, tying the record for most match points saved to win a match at a major in the Open Era, men or women.

Nadal followed Williams on Laver and had few problems with Florian Mayer, outclassing the crafty German in straight sets, 6-3 6-4 6-4. The Spaniard, a 14-time Grand Slam champion and the No.9 seed this fortnight, served impeccably – he didn’t face a single break point the entire match.

“When I win my serve, there are two things,” Nadal said after the match. “Obviously, you need to serve well. Most important thing, I’m not a player who wins my serve because I serve aces or free points. When I’m winning a lot of serves it’s because I’m playing well from the baseline. That’s why.

“I’m happy the way I’m playing. I had good weeks of practice. The first round is never easy. There are always a little bit more nerves at the beginning. I didn’t play against an easy opponent. The way he plays is not a conventional game… I played well on all the key points. That’s very important for me.”

Djokovic, the No.2 seed who has 12 career majors – including six right here in Australia – had perhaps the trickiest draw of them all in Fernando Verdasco, who’d very nearly beaten him in Doha two weeks ago, holding five match points before going down. But it was not the same story this time, as Djokovic handled the Spaniard, a semifinalist here in 2009, in the feature night match, 6-1 7-6(4) 6-2.

Djokovic has now won an amazing 40 of his last 41 matches at the Happy Slam.

Other first round winners on the men’s side included No.3 seed Milos Raonic, No.6 seed Gael Monfils, No.8 seed Dominic Thiem, No.15 seed Grigor Dimitrov and No.20 seed Ivo Karlovic, who fired a tournament record 75 aces to win a thriller over Horacio Zeballos, 6-7(6) 3-6 7-5 6-2 22-20.

No.3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, No.5 seed Karolina Pliskova, No.6 seed Dominika Cibulkova, No.9 seed Johanna Konta and No.17 seed Caroline Wozniacki were also among the women’s winners.

Read more articles by John Berkok

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