Former champion Maria Sharapova was a high profile casualty at the Australian Open on Monday but there were no dramas for Dinara Safina and Andy Murray who spearheaded the charge into the second round.
American Andy Roddick also cruised through, as did comeback queen Kim Clijsters, in stark contrast to Sharapova, who was a shadow of her former self in a 7-6 (7/4), 3-6, 6-4 defeat to fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko.
It was a disastrous start to the year for the underdone 22-year-old, seeded 14, who opted to only play exhibitions in Thailand and Hong Kong as a warm-up to the opening Grand Slam of the season.
Playing with the roof closed on the Rod Laver Arena due to persistent rain, which disrupted play on outside courts, she struggled to find consistency against a player ranked 58.
“I certainly had my chances and just didn’t execute,” she said.
“There is no grey area. It was just up and down in many areas, and just finished at the down level.”
The pin-up won here in 2008 but was deprived of defending her title last year after failing to recover from shoulder surgery which kept her out of action until May.
Another of the Russian contingent, Safina, downed Slovakia’s 47th-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova 6-4, 6-4, while third seed Svetlana Kuznetsova also progressed.
Safina battled double faults and unforced errors in an emotional and spasmodic performance and was happy to get the win under her belt.
“It was not an easy first round match, she’s a very good opponent,” said the number two seed, who was thrashed in the final last year by Serena Williams.
“I had some good moments and bad moments, but overall I’m happy I went through.”
Clijsters, who sensationally won the US Open last year after coming out of retirement, was too good for Canada’s Valerie Tetreault, romping home 6-0, 6-4 in under an hour.
The powerful Belgian, along with Justine Henin, lurk as dark horses to bookmakers’ favourite Williams, who gets her title defence underway on Tuesday against Poland’s Urszula Radwanska.
On the men’s side, Scotland’s Andy Murray was in imposing form as he breezed past South African qualifier Kevin Anderson, 6-1, 6-1, 6-2.
Murray, fancied to become the first British man to win a Grand Slam singles title since 1936, could scarcely have been more impressive as he destroyed the world number 148 in just 97 minutes.
American seventh seed Roddick motored past Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 to stay on track for a potential quarterfinal clash with US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro.
Roddick is now 6-0 for the new season after coming into the Australian Open as the winner of the lead-up Brisbane International.
“First rounds are always a little uncomfortable, especially at a Slam. You’re kind of built up, you’re maybe a little bit over-anxious,” he said.
“But I thought overall it was all right.”
Croatia’s Ivan Ljubicic also progressed, with the 24th seed crushing 16-year-old Australian wildcard Jason Kubler, while former finalist Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, seeded 11, stayed alive with victory over Olivier Rochus.
World number two and defending champion Rafael Nadal plays later Monday, against Australia’s Peter Luczak.
World number one Roger Federer opens his tournament on Tuesday against Russia’s Igor Andreev with third seed Novak Djokovic and sixth seed Nicolay Davydenko posing the main threat for him in his top half of the draw. — AFP