After a build-up dominated by Novak DjokovicThe failed visa controversy allowed the Australian Open Monday to finally emerge from its political shadow and stage a pure sporting drama.
The dawn of real tennis will be a welcome relief to weary fans and beleaguered organizers alike, with the embittered world No. 1 up in the air on the way home to Belgrade when the first pitch was graciously struck at the Rod Laver Arena.
That honor went to number 287 in the world, Tatjana Maria, who was badly beaten by fifth-placed Maria Sakkari when the favorites barely faltered on day one in Melbourne. For a long time, Naomi OsakaHer title defense was as dubious as Djokovics, with the 24-year-old returning to court only last week after a long hiatus, but there were few signs of rust as she swept past Colombian Camila Osorio in straight sets.
Nor was there ever the slightest hint of a disturbed derailing world No. 1 Ashleigh Bartythe hope of succession to Wimbledon glory with a first grand slam on home soil. The Australian completely dominated her struggling opponent Lesia Tsurenko, with Barty rarely out of first gear as she raced to a 6-0 6-1 victory in less than an hour. Where I am right now is a product of all the experiences I’ve had, the hard lessons, the incredible moments, and I am where I am, said Barty of her imperious form and experience, now that she’s spent more than 100 consecutive weeks as world No. 1, despite being only 25.
One of the few major shocks came from China’s Qiang Wang, who struggled with a disastrous loss of form for most of 2021 but recaptured it at the Margaret Court Arena to sentence American teenager Coco Gauff to a first-round exit.
The draw for men’s singles may have been blown open by Djokovic’s absence, but the new order of favorites established a similar pattern. Rafael Nadal has only won one Australian Open in his award-winning career, but a first-round encounter with America’s Marcos Giron promised never to be more than a glorified warm-up. Nadal is short on match training as he missed both Wimbledon and the US Open last year due to a foot injury, but sent his opponent convincingly 6-1 6-4 6-2.
Alexander Zverev had to work harder to beat his German compatriot Daniel Altmaier, while the world No. 3 struggled with his second serve and complained that nothing went according to plan except winning. But after victories at the Olympics and in the ATP Finals, he remains one of the main contenders to inherit Djokovic’s crown. He will also be sure to take on the role of villain for the crowd when he faces home favorite John Millman in the second round.
Matteo Berrettini, who? lost to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final also made it safely to the second round last summer, albeit under some duress after losing the opening set to Brandon Nakashima. But no seed toiled as well as Aslan Karatsev, who last week crushed both Dan Evans and Andy Murray’s hopes of taking the Sydney International title. If those efforts had been exhausting, a titanic duel of nearly five hours against Spaniard Jaume Munar might have completely drained the tank, with the number 18 eventually winning 3-6 7-6 6-7 6-4 6-4.
It was Sebastian Korda, the great American prodigy, who gave up another Briton to beat. Cameron Norrie enjoyed the best season of his career last year, transitioning from underdog to number 12 seed, but he simply had no response to Korda’s power and was clinically dismantled 6-3 6-0 6-4 in under two hours.
I don’t know why I played the way I did today, Norrie said. I felt good physically, and yes, I played a lot of games, but this is what we get paid for and [its] just not good enough. I just need to raise my standards, practice, play matches and perform a lot better, he said.
For British fans, attention now turns to Andy Murray, Dan Evans and of course Emma Raducanu on Tuesday. The opening day of the Australian Open may not have delivered some awesome shocks, but at least the tournament has regained its purpose. After all the legal wrangling and public resentment, the spotlight over Melbourne Park was finally shifted back to tennis itself.
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