Ominous Serena, Djokovic make Australian Open statements

Martin Parry, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 15 2019 08:20 PM

Ominous Serena, Djokovic make Australian Open statements 1
Novak Djokovic blasted past American qualifier Mitchell Krueger 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in Melbourne Tuesday, and next plays Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

A focused Serena Williams sent an ominous Australian Open warning with a 49-minute first-round demolition Tuesday as world No. 1 Novak Djokovic destroyed his opponent as he targets a record seventh title.

The American giant is bidding to match Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam crowns on her first return to Melbourne Park since winning in 2017 while eight weeks pregnant.

Now 37, she kept a low profile in the lead-up to the opening major of the year and came out of the blocks flying against fellow mum Tatjana Maria, pummeling her German opponent 6-0, 6-2.

Sporting a striking jade green jumpsuit and fine mesh stockings on Rod Laver Arena, the 16th seed wasted no time in getting out of the blistering Melbourne heat and said it was good to be back.

"The last time I was here I was pregnant and playing at the same time which is insane," she said. "It's weird walking back on -– by myself this time -– it feels good. I have so many memories from last time I was here."

Bidding for an eighth Melbourne Park crown, few are betting against Williams despite her lowly seeding and she next faces Canadian Eugenie Bouchard who eased past China's Peng Shuai.

Williams played at the mixed teams Hopman Cup in Perth this month, but her appearance on Tuesday was her first outing on tour since a meltdown in losing the US Open final to Naomi Osaka in September.

Japan's Osaka, seeded four, begins her campaign in the night match on Rod Laver Arena against Poland's Magda Linette.

Like Williams, Djokovic is also gunning for a slice of history as he looks to win a seventh title. Fellow six-time champion Roger Federer is aiming for the same.

The Serb blasted past American qualifier Mitchell Krueger 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 and next plays Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who he beat in Melbourne to win the first of his 14 Grand Slam crowns back in 2008.

"I was playing him for the first time and I didn't know what to expect," the top seed said of Krueger. "He was very competitive and I had to work hard for the win. I enjoyed it."

Fourth seed Alexander Zverev, who is looking to win his first Slam title and establish himself as a serious threat to Djokovic, Federer and Rafael Nadal, cruised past Aljaz Bedene 6-4, 6-1, 6-4.

"I've had about 86 injuries and the ankle is still a bit swollen," said the 21-year-old. 

"But I've done everything right in my preparation. Now I either play well or I don't."

- Escape act -

But eighth seed Kei Nishikori, who won in Brisbane last week, had a lucky escape.

The Japanese star looked down and out against little known qualifier Kamil Majchrzak, losing the first two sets before the Pole began badly cramping.

He bravely fought on before calling it a day after winning just two of the next 17 games.

Elsewhere, 12th seeded Italian Fabio Fognini beat Spain's Jaume Munar, who retired with cramps while two sets down on a hot day.

The 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka also benefited from an opponent pulling out, with Ernests Gulbis calling it quits after hurting his back in the second set.

South Korea's Chung Hyeon, a giant killer last year when he beat Zverev and Djokovic on the way to the semi-finals, demonstrated his fighting qualities again, coming from two sets down to beat American Bradley Klahn.

Among the women, sixth seed Elina Svitolina easily progressed, as did Williams' sister Venus, who incredibly played her first Grand Slam tournament 22 years ago.

Seventh seed Karolina Pliskova, who has made the quarter-finals in her last two appearances at Melbourne Park, also went through, but 10th seed Darya Kasatkina slumped out to Switzerland's Timea Bacsinszky.

American Madison Keys, who reached the semis at the French and US Open last year, ensured she too lived to fight another day, crushing local hope Destanee Aiava.

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