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29 February 2024

Federer fireworks warm up Melbourne Park

By Reuters

Roger Federer fired up the Australian Open with a blistering start to his title defence on Monday, bringing some welcome warmth to an unseasonably cool Melbourne Park on opening day.            

The first Grand Slam tournament of the year is famous for its searing heat but a blustery day with the threat of rain had the sweatshirt replacing the T-shirt as the garment of choice among much of the 15,000 crowd on the Rod Laver Arena.       
Federer retained his trademark bandana even though the ease of his 6-1 6-1 6-3 victory over Slovakian Lukas Lacko and the cool afternoon air made the threat of sweat interfering with his vision slight.     
“I thought I played great,” the four-times Australian Open champion and second seed told reporters. “Tried to play offensive from the start and see where it takes me. It didn’t work. I got back and played a bit more risky and so forth.   
“I thought it was a good match. I don’t think he played too bad himself. I saw some talent in him too and that’s why I think I was really happy I chose that tactics early on to pressure him.” 
Federer taking risks meant a treat for the crowd, who witnessed some brilliant shot-making from the 16-times Grand Slam champion.            
It was hard to believe that the Swiss maestro’s backhand was once considered a weakness in his game as he stroked impossible looking winners off it from the back of the court.      
Rafa Nadal’s quest to become the first man since 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam titles starts on Tuesday but this was an emphatic reminder that to do it, the Spaniard is likely to have to beat Federer at the top of his game.    
Women’s top seed Caroline Wozniacki and former champion Maria Sharapova had earlier brought more grit than glamour to the opening day.         
Dane Wozniacki, battling the perception that she is an unworthy world number one until she wins a grand slam title, clinched a 6-3 6-4 victory over Argentine Gisela Dulko after a hard-fought 100-minute contest.  
“It’s the first round,” said the 20-year-old. “It’s always tough. I’m really happy to be through to the next round. I’m feeling good. I’m feeling like I’m in a good shape.”         
Sharapova overcame a nervous start to down Thai Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-1 6-3 and secured her first Australian Open victory since she won her last Major title here in 2008.  
“I was definitely a little bit nervous in the beginning,” said the 23-year-old, who lost to fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko in the first round last year after missing 2009 through injury.     
“Last year I played first match on centre (court) and, I lost. So I was kind of like, I don’t want this to happen again this year.”               
French Open champion Francesca Schiavone also showed grit as she came back from a set down to win her opening encounter against Spain’s Arantxa Para Santonja 6-7 6-2 6-4.        
American 18th seed Sam Querrey was the first seeded player to fall and he took his time doing it, losing 5-7 6-2 3-6 6-1 8-6 to Pole Lukasz Kubot over three hours and 20 minutes.                  
Russian 23rd seed Nikolay Davydenko, three-times a quarter-finalist here, also made an early departure with a 6-3 4-6 7-6 6-4 defeat at the hands of German Florian Mayer.            
Andy Roddick gave a forceful reminder that he once won a Grand Slam - albeit at the US Open in 2003 - with a 6-1 6-2 6-2 rout of Czech Jan Hajek.              
The American fired down 18 aces but said the conditions had not helped his power game.            
“It was playing slow, so you had to kind of adjust,” he said. “It wasn’t hitting and jumping like it normally would here, and I think that’s probably just the colder conditions.”               
Gael Monfils staged a remarkable comeback from two sets and a break down to beat Thiemo De Bakker 6-7 2-6 7-5 6-2 6-1, the 12th seeded Frenchman saying he had taken advantage of a flaw in his Dutch opponent’s character.             
“I know Thiemo a bit,” he said. “Sometime he snaps in the head. We know he can snap. It’s a weakness for him. So you play with that.”                  
Men’s third seed Novak Djokovic plays his opening match against Spaniard Marcel Granollers in the evening session.