Fast starts in Melbourne for Nadal's challengers

Jan 17 2011 - 10:59pm

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(ROB GRIFFITH/The Associated Press) Andy Roddick returns a ball to Jan Hajek during their first-round match at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia on Monday.
(ROB GRIFFITH/The Associated Press) Andy Roddick returns a ball to Jan Hajek during their first-round match at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia on Monday.

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Roger Federer was sublime at times in his opening win. Novak Djokovic was businesslike and to the point.

Their messages to Rafael Nadal on Monday were no doubt the same: The Spaniard will have to be at his very best to complete his "Rafa Slam" at the Australian Open.

Defending champion Federer dismantled Lukas Lacko 6-1, 6-1, 6-3, mixing some classic touch and angled shots with aggressive groundstrokes in the third match at Rod Laver Arena. Lacko's only break came in the second set, when he successfully challenged two baseline calls in one game that had been given to Federer as winners -- the 16-time Grand Slam champion must have mesmerized the line judges with his earlier precision.

Federer is aiming to become only the second man to win the Australian Open five times; Roy Emerson won six. Retaining the title at Melbourne Park would stall the prospect of knowing what it's like not to hold any of the major trophies. He's won at least one of the four each year since 2003.

At the moment, Nadal owns three -- winning the French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open crowns last year to get himself into position to be the first man to win four consecutive majors since Laver completed the calendar Grand Slam in 1969.

He starts today against Marcos Daniel of Brazil. Also on his half of the draw are last year's finalist, Andy Murray, and No. 4-ranked Robin Soderling.

Soderling had trouble in Melbourne last year, exiting in the first round in an upset loss to Marcel Granollers.

With that in mind, Djokovic took no chances against Granollers on Monday night, soundly beating the 24-year-old Spaniard 6-1, 6-3, 6-1. He thinks it's premature for anyone to be talking about winning the title.

"I try to think about myself and my matches, the opponents that I have to face, not about the other guys," he said. "Of course, all the credit to Rafa and Roger. They are deservedly the two biggest favorites to win this tournament. They're the two best players of the world.

"(But) definitely this performance gives me more confidence and gives me enough reason to think that I can beat anyone."

Caroline Wozniacki started her first major tournament as the No. 1-ranked woman with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Argentina's Gisela Dulko, while fourth-seeded Venus Williams advanced 6-3, 6-2 over Sara Errani of Italy 6-3, 6-2.

She's the only Williams sister in the draw after defending champion Serena withdrew with an injured foot.

Justine Henin had her struggles against Indian qualifier Sania Mirza before winning 5-7, 6-3, 6-1 in what she called her "first official match in six months."

Maria Sharapova won here in 2008 but was unable to defend her title because of injury. She was ousted in the first round last year, so it was a big relief to finally win at Melbourne Park on Monday, beating Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-1, 6-3.

She advanced along with French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, 2010 semifinalist Li Na of China and No. 15 Marion Bartoli, who shut out Italy's Tathiana Garbin 6-0, 6-0.

On the men's side, eighth-seeded American Andy Roddick started strongly with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win over Jan Hajek of the Czech Republic.

"I feel healthy and strong for the first time in a while," he said.

His U.S. Davis Cup teammates had a tougher time, with Mardy Fish coming back from two sets down to win in five for the first time in his career and Sam Querrey losing in a five-setter.

No. 18 Querrey went down 5-7, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, 8-6 to Lukasz Kubot of Poland, while No. 18 Fish overcame Victor Hanescu of Romania 2-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3.

Gael Monfils was down two sets and a break and facing a first-round defeat before Thiemo de Bakker imploded, letting the 12th-seeded Frenchman rally for a 6-7 (5), 2-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-1 win.

Also advancing were No. 6 Tomas Berdych, who lost the last Wimbledon final to Nadal, No. 9 Fernando Verdasco, No. 28 Richard Gasquet and fellow Frenchman Gilles Simon, who presents Federer with a problem.

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