Wednesday 21 March 2018 / 02:14 PM


World No.2 Serena Williams started her pursuit of a seventh Australian Open and 23rd grand slam title with a routine 6-4 6-3 win over Swiss upstart Belinda Bencic.

This was the most hyped first-round clash in the women’s draw because Bencic, 16 years Williams’ junior, had won their most recent clash. Plus Williams came in rusty, having committed 88 unforced errors in her most recent match in Auckland.

But this time, Williams produced eight aces and hit 30 winners in a far more polished display. After a competitive first set, Williams raced to 5-0 in the second before Bencic rallied with some free hitting. Bencic pegged the score back to 5-3 and even had a break point to get back on serve.

Williams will next take on Lucie Safarova in a rematch of the 2005 French Open final. The Czech lefty saved a record-equalling nine match points in the second set against world No.60 Yanina Wickmayer, eventually winning 3-6 7-6 6-1. Safarova’s escape act matched three other players in grand slam matches – Nick Kyrgios, Chanda Rubin and Vincent Spadea.

Speaking of records, over on Court 19, giant-serving Ivo Karlovic racked up a tournament record 75 aces in his marathon win over Horacia Zeballos. The 6-7 3-6 7-5 6-2 22-20 scoreline also set a new mark for longest match in terms of games in Australian Open history, eclipsing the 83-game tally between Andy Roddick and Younes El Aynaoui. The fifth set took 157 minutes alone.

Rafael Nadal was rock-solid on another scorching day on Rod Laver Arena. He didn’t face a single break point in his 6-3 6-4 6-4 win over unorthodox German Florian Mayer. Nadal could have a much trickier foe in teenage prodigy Alexander Zverev come round three. Also a German, Zverev came from behind to win a five-setter against Robin Haase.

In the night session, Novak Djokovic started the defence of his title with an up-and-down performance over experienced Fernando Verdasco. The world No.2 and six-time winner in Melbourne dominated the first and third sets but got involved in a tense second set slugfest, which went 71 minutes before Djokovic prevailed in a tie-break.

At one stage there were four breaks of serve in a row and both players looked irritable and edgy. In an ugly set to watch, with a string of unforced errors, they both vented their frustration with verbals directed to their support boxes. Djokovic eventually powered to a 6-1 7-6 6-2 win over the gritty Spaniard.

Although there were no shock upsets on Day 2, 28th seed Feliciano Lopez lost in straight sets to Italian Fabio Fognini. Meanwhile, 18th seed Aussie Sam Stosur’s miserable form continued, losing out in three sets to Briton Heather Watson. Stosur was also knocked out in the first round at last year’s Open and hasn’t won a WTA match since August.

[YouTube – Australian Open TV]

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Farhan Shah

A recent addition to the roster, Melburnian Farhan is a sports nut who has come on board to provide golf, tennis, AFL and rugby league coverage for CBS.

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