Nadal gets workout, Sharapova out

Sharapova lost to fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko 7-6 3-6 6-4 on the Rod Laver Arena. (AFP)

Rafael Nadal was given a decent workout as he got his Australian Open title defence under way yesterday.

Nadal was tested, particularly in the first set, by home hope Peter Luczak but showed glimpses of his best form as he posted a 7-6 (7/0) 6-1 6-4 victory.

The Spaniard, who won the title 12 months ago by beating Roger Federer in one of the all-time great matches, found himself in trouble in the opening set when Luczak broke to lead 5-3.

However, he was unable to serve out the set, surrendering his delivery when he sent a forehand wide. Having flinched, Luczak was made to pay as Nadal strolled through the ensuing tie-break without losing a point.

The first set had taken 79 minutes but the second was over in less than half that time, Nadal immediately breaking and going on to dominate.

The world number 70 put up a greater fight in the third set but by that stage most of his fans on the Rod Laver Arena knew the game was up. Last year's Wimbledon runner-up Andy Roddick joined Andy Murray in the second round with an easy 6-1 6-4 6-4 against Dutchman Thiemo De Bakker.

His biggest problem proved to be a collision with a line judge after which Roddick admitted his relief at not antagonising a knee injury which affected him last season. US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro suffered a third-set blip, largely caused by an argument with the umpire, but the fourth seed recovered to post a 6-4 6-4 3-6 6-2 win over American Michael Russell. Del Potro admitted afterwards his wrist injury remained a problem – he was forced to pull out of a warm-up tournament last week – and that there was still some pain.

"I don't feel 100 per cent, but I am feel better than yesterday, and I hope to be better for tomorrow [and] in my next match," he said.

Fernando Gonzalez, seeded 11, also progressed to round two – the Chilean also needed four sets to see off Olivier Rochus.

But the 13th seed, Radek Stepanek, lost a five-set fight with Croatian Ivo Karlovic.

In the women's draw, Maria Sharapova's belated return to the Australian Open ended swiftly yesterday when the former world number one was knocked out just hours after the first grand slam of 2010 began.

Belgian Kim Clijsters, back in Australia after missing the last two years to start a family, made a triumphant return while Dinara Safina and Svetlana Kuznetsova all registered straight-sets wins. Sharapova, making her first appearance at Melbourne Park since winning the championship two years ago, lost to fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko 7-6 3-6 6-4 on the Rod Laver Arena.

Unable to defend her title last year because of a shoulder injury, Sharapova was a shadow of the player who stormed to the 2008 title without dropping a single set, contributing to her own defeat with 66 unforced errors and 11 double faults. Instead of the extreme heat that has left competitors soaked in sweat and gasping for air, the players were greeted by wind and rain when they arrived this time.

Matches on the outside courts were delayed then interrupted by showers while organisers closed the giant retractable roofs on the two main courts to ensure the feature matches went ahead.

There was no repeat of the ethnic clashes that have marred the start of the tournament in recent years with security adopting a firm stance against unruly fans.

Police ejected 11 spectators for carrying a flare then standing on seats during Karlovic's five-set win over Czech Radek Stepanek.

 

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