Novak Djokovic wins in straight sets
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Same Grand Slam, same court, same result. Only the year was different for Novak Djokovic -- and the amount of time he needed on the bright blue hard surface at Rod Laver Arena.
The Australian Open defending champion took his first step toward winning his third consecutive title at Melbourne Park -- and fourth overall -- with a 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 win over Paul-Henri Mathieu of France on Monday.
The match lasted 1 hour, 42 minutes, more than four hours faster than when the Serbian star was last on center court, his victory in last year's final over Rafael Nadal in a 5-hour, 53-minute marathon.
The win ran Djokovic's winning streak at Melbourne to 15 matches and his overall win-loss record to 33-5. Any wonder Djokovic calls the Australian Open, site of his first of five Grand Slams in 2008, his favorite major.
"It's great to be back in Australia playing on this court," Djokovic said.
On this opening day, Djokovic took his first step to becoming the first man to win three consecutive Australian Open titles in the Open era.
"Any achievement, especially if it's part of history, would mean a lot to me," Djokovic said. "I love this sport. This sport has been my life since I was 4 years old."
Djokovic lost a match to Australia's Bernard Tomic in the exhibition, mixed-team Hopman Cup tournament this month, but said his win over Mathieu, who reached a career-high No. 12 ranking in 2008, was a good steppingstone for his second-round match against American Ryan Harrison, a 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 winner over Santiago Giraldo of Colombia.
Federer and Murray are in the other half of the draw.
Also Monday, fourth-seeded David Ferrer defeated Olivier Rochus of Belgium 6-3, 6-4, 6-2; 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych defeated Michael Russell 6-3, 7-5, 6-3; and No. 10 Nicolas Almagro of Spain beat American qualifier Steve Johnson 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-2.
Eighth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia came back from two service breaks down in the second set and went on to beat local favorite Lleyton Hewitt 7-6 (4), 7-5, 6-3. It was Hewitt's 17th consecutive Australian Open, a tournament where he has advanced past the fourth round only once -- when he lost in the final to Marat Safin in 2005."To his credit, he raised his level and played some great points," Hewitt said of Tipsarevic. "He just played too well on the big points. He was going for everything at 3-0 (down), and it came off."
Also advancing were No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, No. 16 Kei Nishikori of Japan, No. 22 Fernando Verdasco of Spain, No. 26 Jurgen Melzer of Austria, No. 28 Marcos Baghdatis and No. 32 Julien Benneteau of France, who beat rising Bulgarian star Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
Djokovic shelved the conventional preparations for a while on the weekend, warming up for a shot at a third consecutive Australian title with a bit of weekend hit-and-giggle and a Gangnam Style dance with Serena Williams.
That was for kids' day, when thousands of people flocked to Rod Laver Arena to see Djokovic hitting in a just-for-fun match with players including past champions Roger Federer and Williams and a cast of human-sized cartoon characters.
Now that play has started, it's all business. His five-set win over Nadal in the final last year already has been written into Australian Open folklore, and followed his titles at Melbourne Park in 2008 and 2011.
"This is my most successful Grand Slam," he said. "But this Grand Slam is also known for a lot of surprises, players who have been reaching the final stages who are not expected to. We'll see. The Australian Open always brings something interesting."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.