MELBOURNE, Australia &
Top-ranked Roger Federer showed no lasting effects from a nasty stomach bug, routing Diego Hartfield of Argentina 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 today to open his quest of a third consecutive Australian Open title.
The illness forced Federer to pull out of last week's exhibition tournament at Kooyong, interrupting his preparations as he seeks to pull within one of Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam championships.
"I'm very happy to be back playing," Federer said. "I'm not sick very often so it was a bit of a scare."
Playing a match on the new blue Plexicushion surface in Rod Laver Arena for the first time, he looked just a tad rusty in the first game, with Hartfield getting his only break-point opportunity.
The Swiss star, dressed in all black, quickly found his form and began ripping winners from all over the court, quashing any suggestions that he might be vulnerable for an early upset.
On a perfect night for tennis, Federer was often perfect, running off the first nine games and the last seven. He finished off the match with his 11th ace. With 38 winners and just 14 unforced errors &
none in the third set &
he compiled twice as many points as Hartfield, 84-42.
"I was playing well in practice, moving well, serving well," Federer said. "I knew that, with the full crowd, I'll play even better. And with the adrenaline rush, you push yourself even more.
"So I knew I'll come out here tonight and probably play pretty good, you know. But the result was that extreme, I didn't expect that. But I'm really happy about it. Wish it was like this every night."
Hartfield was left in awe.
"I had to play perfect to have a chance to make it tight," he said. "I was trying to play my tennis, believe I can win. Right at the beginning, I can see I had no chance. He did everything so good.
"I can't imagine how it's possible to beat him if he plays like this."
Venus Williams overcame a rash of mistakes to post her first victory here in three years, beating China's Yan Zi 6-2, 7-5.
The eighth-seeded Williams, who lost in the first round at Melbourne Park in 2006 and was out last year with injuries before starting a comeback that included the Wimbledon title, was her own worst enemy.
She finished with 29 unforced errors and only 19 winners. Serving for the match at 5-3, she double-faulted twice while getting broken at love, then finished it off by breaking as Yan served at 5-6.
Williams, who joined sister Serena, the defending champion, in the second round, shrugged off her mistakes, saying: "Errors happen. That's tennis."
Fortunately for her, Yan didn't have enough offense and was content to slug it out from the baseline &
she finished with only five winners.
"I felt good out there," Williams said. "Had a lot of fun. Got to hit a lot of balls, which I felt was good. She definitely made me play some balls that I wasn't expecting to come back."
The tournament experienced its first crowd violence problem as Greece's Konstantinos Economidis played last year's losing finalist, seventh-seeded Fernando Gonzalez of Chile.
Tournament officials said play was interrupted for five minutes while police sprayed three people with pepper spray. Five were evicted.
Gonzalez won in straight sets.
Third-ranked Novak Djokovic showed he has recovered from the exhaustion at the end of last year, when he played 87 matches, more than any other men's player. He looked refreshed, sharp and hungry again as he beat Benjamin Becker 6-0, 6-2, 7-6 (5).
His brief offseason consisted of ... nothing.
"I tried not to do anything. That's a real rest," said Djokovic, seeded third after coming in at No. 16 last year.
After the match, the television commentator implored Djokovic to do one of his impressions of another player &
specifically Maria Sharapova &
that have generated huge attention on Youtube.
At first, he resisted &
"I don't want to offend anybody," he said &
before doing a good impersonation, right down to the Russian player's tendency to brush strands of her long blonde hair back over her ears.
No. 10 David Nalbandian, who beat Federer and Rafael Nadal at consecutive tournaments to win the Madrid and Paris titles, recovered from back spasms that forced him out of the Kooyong exhibition to oust Australian Robert Smeets.
Former U.S. Open and Wimbledon winner Lleyton Hewitt started his 12th bid to become the first homegrown winner of the national championship since 1976 by downing Steve Darcis of Belgium.
No. 12 James Blake beat Nicolas Massu, and Marcos Baghdatis, who lost the 2006 final, defeated 2002 champion Thomas Johansson.
Marat Safin, who lost the 2002 final but made amends with the title here in 2005, next faces Baghdatis after overcoming Latvia's Ernests Gulbis.
Fifth-ranked David Ferrer ousted Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France, but No. 17 Ivan Ljubicic lost to Robin Haase of the Netherlands.
France's 35-year-old Fabrice Santoro broke Andre Agassi's record for most Grand Slam appearances in the Open era when he beat American John Isner in straight sets to kick off his 62nd major, including 38 in a row.
On the women's side, No. 6-seeded Anna Chakvetadze only played six points before Germany's Andrea Petkovic retired with a leg injury. Also advancing were second-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 4 Ana Ivanovic, No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova and No. 14 Nadia Petrova. Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli, seeded 10th, lost to Sofia Arvidsson.
Federer shows no effects from illness in Australian Open romp
MELBOURNE, Australia &