MELBOURNE (AFP) – Novak Djokovic led a trail of the top men’s seeds into the second round at the Australian Open on Tuesday as Stan Wawrinka made a successful return to his life-changing court.
World number one Djokovic, fighting off the effects of a virus, put paid to Aljaz Bedene in straight sets as he began his quest for a fifth title at Melbourne Park.
The Serb top seed ousted the 116th-ranked Slovenian 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in 1hr 49min on Rod Laver Arena and will next play Russian Andrey Kuznetsov.
Djokovic, who crashed out to eventual winner Wawrinka in the quarter-finals of last year’s event, has been dogged by illness in the lead-up to the year’s first major tournament.
But after encountering early problems from the 116th-ranked Bedene he went on to secure passage into the next round.
“It’s fading away. It hasn’t been an ideal couple of weeks in terms of health and preparation,” Djokovic said.
“But I fought my way through. Now it’s behind me. I’m only looking forward.”
The seven-time Grand Slam champion broke Bedene’s service four times and only had three break points against his serve in the match.
“For a first round performance it was pretty good, obviously I still need to work on a few things, I’m still developing my game,” Djokovic said.
Wawrinka returned to Rod Laver Arena where his life changed completely last year to get his title defence off to the right start. The Swiss fourth seed, who upset Rafael Nadal in the 2014 final, ripped through Turkey’s Marsel Ilhan 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 to safely negotiate the first hurdle.
Wawrinka had few problems breaking the 100th-ranked Ilhan’s serve five times and will play Romanian Marius Copil next up.
The big-serving Swiss has now not lost in the first round in 10 appearances at the Australian Open.
“It was great to be back on Rod Laver Arena again, it brings back so many memories from last year,” Wawrinka said.
“It was such an amazing two weeks so it was great to come back here and I am pleased with my game in general and I’m excited to start again.”
But Wawrinka said he was not getting too far ahead of himself with a potential quarter-final against Japanese star Kei Nishikori and beyond that a semi-final with Djokovic.
Nishikori took the first steps he hopes will lead to Grand Slam glory with a hard-fought opening win over Spaniard Nicolas Almagro.
Nishikori, who lost to Marin Cilic in last year’s US Open final, won a 2hr 7min dogfight with the former world number nine before prevailing, 6-4, 7-6 (7/1), 6-2 on Margaret Court Arena.
The fifth seed had a battle with Almagro before winning a pivotal second-set tiebreaker and sweeping through the third and final set for passage into the second round.
“I’m getting close to next level. Obviously, it was a really tough first match,” he said.
“Nicolas could be seeded player, and I know he was injured, but I was getting more balls, especially third set, and I played a much better third set.”
Another of the new breed, Canada’s boom-serving Milos Raonic, was taken to two tiebreak sets before overcoming Ukraine qualifier Illya Marchaneko.