On a scorcher in Melbourne that caused three player retirements, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic looked cool and collected in turning back South Korea’s Chung Hyeon 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to start his campaign on Day One of the 2016 Australian Open.
“Having to play somebody for the first time, especially somebody that is as young as him, he’s only 19, it can be tricky,” said the defending champion Djokovic. “Obviously getting out on the court and playing against a player that has nothing to lose. He moves very well, as well. He can play equally well from defence to offence. And he’s one of the players that people are talking about as a potential top player in the future.”
Hyeon swung freely in the first set, breaking Djokovic to bring the match back on serve in the seventh game, but the Serb then won six games on the trot to take control of the match.
“It was pretty warm,” Djokovic said. “But, again, it was warm for both of us. For these kind of conditions, you have to prepare yourself, expect the warm days like this and accept them, as well.”
The bit of zen heat strategy could have benefited No. 22 seed Ivo Karlovic and American Sam Querrey, two of the higher-profile players retiring from matches on Monday in Melbourne.
No. 3 Roger Federer was another player looking rather fresh in the midst of soaring temperatures, defeating Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 to move into the second round.
“I’m really pleased how I was able to play,” said the 34-year-old who is coming off a battle with the flu bug. “Definitely gives me a bit of a lift in confidence, because this year I haven’t been able to play properly yet. I had some decent matches in Brisbane, but it was all under sort of a cloud knowing that I wasn’t 100 percent. But this was a match where I was able to focus on my game, on tactics, all that stuff.”
Other Top 10 winners on Monday were No. 6 Tomas Berdych battling back India’s Yuki Bhambri 7-5, 6-1, 6-2; No. 7 Kei Nishikori out-gunning German Philipp Kohlschreiber from the baseline 6-4, 6-3, 6-3; and No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeating Marcos Baghdatis 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 in a battle of former finalists.
Lower seeds into the second round were No. 12 Marin Cilic, No. 14 Gilles Simon, No. 15 David Goffin, No. 19 Dominic Thiem, No. 24 Roberto Bautista Agut who needed five sets to beat Slovak Martin Klizan, No. 26 Guillermo “G-Lo” Garcia-Lopez, No. 27 Grigor Dimitrov, No. 28 Andreas Seppi, and No. 29 Nick Kyrgios.
“There were a lot of nerves, a lot of excitement,” said Kyrgios, who came into Melbourne with only the hit-and-giggle Hopman Cup under his belt. “I haven’t played a real, real match. I played Hopman Cup. Felt confident. Just going out there with the pressure, playing in front of the home crowd. I came out there pretty good.”
Things got dicey on the sportsmanship front when American wildcard Noah Rubin, who had won the USTA’s wildcard challenge tournament to earn the Melbourne spot, upset No. 17 seed Benoit Paire 7-6(4), 7-6(6), 7-6(5).
The Frenchman, who was truly upset, immediately went to the media interview room after the match to alert the press regarding his No. 328-ranked opponent’s skill level.
“I played against a not-good player, but I was very bad today so that’s it, I lost,” Paire said. “I didn’t know him, and after this match, I said, yes, he’s not a good player.”
Other unseeded players making noise were Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic who was at two sets all with Querrey when the American retired, and Spain’s Albert Ramos who had an easy time with the star-tabbed Croat Borna Coric 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.
Tuesday matches to block out on your schedule in Melbourne include (5) Rafael Nadal vs. Fernando “Hot Sauce” Verdasco in an all-Spanish showdown, Lleyton Hewitt in his farewell tournament vs. Aussie compatriot James “Daffy” Duckworth, (2) Andy Murray vs. German riser Alexander Zverev, (4) Stan Wawrinka vs. showman Dmitri Tursunov, an upset alert with Gilles Muller vs. (20) Fabio Fognini, (25) Jack Sock vs. American compatriot and former world No. 1 junior Taylor Fritz, and the always-entertaining Ernests Gulbis vs. (30) Jeremy Chardy.
TENNIS-X NEWS, NOTES, QUOTES AND BARBS
Tomic “The Tank Engine” is Back! — Fans and journalists are still trying to figure out Bernard “The Tank Engine” Tomic’s withdrawal in the quarterfinals at Sydney after trailing Teymuraz Gabashvili 6-3, 3-0. In the post-match conference Tomic seemingly gave every excuse he could think of, from not sleeping well during the week to an upset stomach to not wanting to play two matches in a day due to rain delays to wanting to get on to his “good draw in Melbourne.” Tomic told journalists afterwards he could not remember the conversation with the chair umpire, but FOX Sports quoted him as saying, “I’m looking for Melbourne, I’m not looking for this. I have to make final to make (rankings) points. I have to make final. I have to win (the tournament) to go to (No.) 16th.” Former Aussie player and current commentator Rennae Stubbs afterwards on social media wrote, “No offense Bernie but you’re not winning the Australian Open. You might want to concentrate on winning Sydney instead. #idontunderstand.” Tomic “giggled” through his post-match interview, saying that he saw his Australian Open favorable draw on his phone as he was warming up for the match with Gabashvili, prompting tennis writer Matt Cronin to write on social media, “Tomic was saying how much he loves Sydney, loves playing here and then he retires cause he just saw his draw at AO? Then don’t look at draw!” Tomic will begin his Australian Open campaign on Tuesday in Melbourne.
The BBC later this week will announce “secret files exposing evidence of widespread suspected match fixing at the top level of world tennis, including at Wimbledon.” Apparently the anti-corruption authorities dropped the ball in 2007-08 during the time responsibility was passed from the ATP to the then-new Tennis Integrity Unit. Mark Phillips, an investigator in 2007, told the BBC, “There was a core of about 10 players who we believed were the most common perpetrators that were at the root of the problem. The evidence was really strong.”…Here is a super-sad transparent spin attempt by the WTA to show that their players love playing IPTL and other exhibitions, and that it is a super-positive thing despite nine of their Top 10 players pulling out of event with injuries or illnesses over the last two weeks…Someone tell Victoria Azarenka those too-tight ’80s-style runners shorts aren’t working…Maria Sharapova is now on board with sponsor NetJets…With H&M clothing and Tomas Berdych parting ways, the clothing manufacturer has reportedly given up on tennis…Former world No. 1 junior (2012) Taylor Townsend is finding the pro tour a bit more demanding. The fitness-challenged No. 310-ranked “next Serena” lost first round at an ITF event in Florida last week after winning the first set 6-0. She is entering her fourth full year as a pro…In the Brisbane semis, Victoria Azarenka had the luxury of two super coaches advising her, while American qualifier Sam Crawford had no coach. Nice and fair there, WTA on-court coaching rule…Joining the 0-2 Club to start out the year prior to the Aussie Open were former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic and CoCo Vandeweghe, who looks like she is trying to play her way into shape after the off-season…Bernard “The Tank Engine” Tomic reportedly ripped into some local club players and the club manager at the Gold Coast RACV Royal Pines resort this week in Australia when his practice was interrupted and he refused to pay a court fee. He later apologized. “I’ve been so focused on preparing for all my matches, I know there’s no excuse for my behavior,” Tomic told News Corp Australia. “My practice was interrupted and I got a bit frustrated.” Now you know how your Aussie tennis fans feel…Thailand’s former tennis star Paradorn Srichaphan, who reached No. 9 in the world, spent time as a Buddhist monk and married a Miss Universe winner, was trying to earn his pro golf card at the Asian Tour Q School events. But we didn’t make the cut…How funny is media sites going crazy over the “sportsmanship” of Jack Sock yelling across the net that Lleyton Hewitt should video-challenge a close call at the Hopman Cup? It’s an exhibition, idiots. Get back to us when that happens at a tour event…The Aussie media is getting fired-up that while the men’s tour is having a hard time getting its hands around illegal betting, UK bookmaker William Hill’s advertising is all over the Aussie open site.
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