Melbourne: Novak Djokovic got his Australian Open title defence off to worry-free start, breaking Paul-Henri Mathieu’s serve in the opening game and going on to beat the veteran Frenchman 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 Monday at Rod Laver Arena.
Djokovic, who broke Mathieu’s serve at 5-5 in the deciding set, is attempting to be the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian titles. He won in 2011 and ’12 to go with his title here in 2008, which was also the first of his five majors.
With Rafael Nadal not playing due to a virus, Djokovic’s major threats at Melbourne Park are expected to come from No 2 Roger Federer or No.3 Andy Murray.
Federer and Murray are in the other half of the draw.
Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic has defeated American Michael Russell 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 to advance to the second round of the Australian Open.
The No 5-seeded Berdych made only half of his first serves on Monday, but took advantage of 42 unforced errors from Russell to break the American six times.
Berdych, the 2010 Wimbledon finalist, has reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne the past two years, but has never advanced beyond that stage.
The 34-year-old Russell was the third-oldest man in the men’s singles draw after Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo and Tommy Haas.
Kei Nishikori recovered from a tough first-set tiebreaker to beat Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 in a first-round match Monday at the Australian Open.
Leading 3-0 in the third set, Nishikori called out the ATP trainer, who worked on his left knee and quadriceps for a few minutes. It was the same knee which has bothered the Japanese star this month, forcing him to retire from his Brisbane International against Andy Murray and withdraw from an exhibition tournament.
In the fourth set, Nishikori broke Hanescu’s service in the eighth game to go ahead 5-3, then held his serve to advance to the second round.
The 16th-seeded Nishikori next plays the winner of the match between Carlos Berlocq of Argentina and Belgian qualifier Maxime Authom.
Fourth-seeded David Ferrer defeated Olivier Rochus of Belgium 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in the first round. The 30-year-old Spaniard hit 30 winners and had a first-serve percentage of 71 percent. He also benefited from Rochus’ 29 unforced errors.
Fresh from winning the title in Auckland last week, Ferrer has the No. 4 seeding in Melbourne because fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal opted not to play in the Australian Open due to illness and injury.