/ 17 January 2012

Djokovic begins triple title quest

Defending champion Novak Djokovic dazzled with a through-the-legs trick-shot as he began his quest for a third straight Major title in awesome fashion at the Australian Open on Tuesday.

The world No. 1 showed none of the injury pains that overshadowed the final months of last year as he dismantled Italy’s Paolo Lorenzi 6-2, 6-0, 6-0 — and even won a point with his audacious party-piece late in the match.

Leading 3-0 in the third and standing on the baseline, Djokovic turned his back to the court and clipped a shot between his legs to the flummoxed Lorenzi, who embarrassingly netted.

It was a sign of overflowing confidence in the Serb, who won 10 of 11 finals and went 70-6 last year — despite being derailed by injuries after the US Open — in a season described by some as the best in tennis history.

The Wimbledon and US Open champion is now bidding to become just the fifth man to win three consecutive Grand Slam titles in the Open Era joining Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

“I just have more confidence that I’m playing on right now. I just believe that I can win, especially against the biggest rivals in the Major events,” Djokovic said.

Fifth seed David Ferrer, a semifinalist last year, had a straight-sets win over Portugal’s Rui Machado, extending a strong start to the year after he won this month’s ATP event in Auckland.

“I won in three sets. This is very important for me as my game is very physical,” said the Spanish baseliner.

Tough opponents
Japan’s Kei Nishikori also came through in three sets against Stephane Robert of France and bullet-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, a winner this month in Chennai, eclipsed Italy’s Filippo Volandri for the loss of just six games.

In the women’s draw, Wimbledon title-holder Petra Kvitova and 2008 Open winner Maria Sharapova also made convincing starts at sun-drenched Melbourne Park.

As temperatures again climbed past 30C°, Kvitova raced past Russia’s Vera Dushevina 6-2, 6-0 and Sharapova pummelled Argentina’s Gisela Dulko 6-0, 6-1 in less than an hour.

Dulko had no answer to the power of Sharapova’s ground strokes, her forehand particularly damaging throughout the 58-minute encounter. Sharapova smashed 14 winners past Dulko and forced the Argentine into 22 errors over the two sets.

“I knew I had a tough opponent today,” a delighted Sharapova said afterwards. “I focused on every point and took her time away — she’s a player who loves time on the ball.”

The Russian fourth seed also showed no signs of a left ankle injury that forced her to withdraw from the Brisbane International two weeks ago.

Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi, who won the Brisbane tournament, beat Sweden’s Johanna Larsson 6-2, 6-4 to reach the second round. — AFP