May 24, 2013
Djokovic makes solid start to hat-trick bid
Novak Djokovic showed brief flashes of his best tennis as he began his bid for a third successive Australian Open title with a workmanlike 6-2 6-4 7-5 win over Paul-Henri Mathieu.
Perhaps keeping energy in reserve for the battles that lie ahead, the world number one only really roused himself when he faced three break points in the second set and again when the third set looked destined for a tiebreak.
On the first occasion the Serbian rustled up three aces to get himself out of trouble and on the second, he produced a couple of exceptional winners to break the Frenchman and set up victory in an hour and 42 minutes.
"I thought it was a really good match. We both served well in the second and third but I managed to hold on and play well when I needed to," said the top seed, who will play American Ryan Harrison in the second round.
"It's a two-week long event, it's the first day, everybody's obviously excited. For me, it was great to be back here."
Maria Sharapova had earlier shown greater ruthlessness and swept aside any fears about her fitness with a 6-0 6-0 victory over Olga Puchkova.
Sharapova, the 2008 champion and runner up to Victoria Azarenka last year, was quickly joined in the second round by Venus Williams and Li Na after both the former losing finalists also enjoyed emphatic wins.
Men's fifth seed Tomas Berdych progressed with a 6-3 7-5 6-3 win over American Michael Russell, while Asia's hope Kei Nishikori brushed off his injury woes with a solid 6-7 6-3 6-1 6-3 win over Romania's Victor Hanescu.
Despite the record temperatures which have gripped Australia for the last couple of weeks, the year's first grand slam opened in mild conditions under overcast skies at Melbourne Park.
There was nothing mild about Sharapova's demolition of Puchkova on Rod Laver Arena, however, and after saving a couple of break points in the opening game, she powered her way to victory over her compatriot in just 55 minutes.