Roger Federer shanked a few shots and was unsettled by how nervous he felt after six months on the sidelines, despite the familiar surroundings at the Australian Open.
No other man on tour knows the way around a Grand Slam tournament better than Federer, who is playing in his 69th major and has won a record 17.
He served 19 aces and had only one double-fault in a 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 win Monday over fellow 35-year-old Jurgen Melzer, but dropped serve three times and experienced frustrating moments.
"I was feeling nervous once the match actually started," said Federer, who hadn't played at tour level since Wimbledon after taking time off to let his injured left knee heal. "In the warmup ... I felt fine. Then I hit four frames in a row. It was like, `Whew, it's not as easy as I thought it was going to be.'
"I struggled for a while to find that groove, that rhythm."
Federer had surgery on the knee after a semifinal exit at the last Australian Open and missed the French Open, ending his streak of 65 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments. He returned for Wimbledon, reached the semifinals, then didn't play again in 2016. In November, he fell out of the top 10 for the first time in 734 weeks.
The 17th-seeded Federer wasn't the only highly-ranked player to find the going tough Monday.
Stan Wawrinka, the U.S. Open champion, was pushed to five sets. So was No. 5-seeded Kei Nishikori. Angelique Kerber, defending champion and ranked No. 1 at a major for the first time, had some nervous moments in her 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 win over Lesia Tsurenko.
Kerber won her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne last year, beating Serena Williams in the final after saving a match point in the first round.
After wasting a match point before her serve was broken as Tsurenko rallied to win the second set, Kerber said her mind raced back 12 months.
"When I lost the second set, and I had match point, I was thinking about my match last year in the first round," she said. "First rounds are always tough."
In his first Grand Slam match with the elevated status of having a knighthood and the No. 1 ranking, Andy Murray berated himself when he made mistakes and frequently yelled during a 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-2 win over Illya Marchenko.
In other words, nothing much has changed.
The five-time finalist comfortably navigated what he hoped was the first step to a drought-breaking Australian Open title.
Murray has lost four of the last six finals in Melbourne to six-time champion Novak Djokovic.
Gaining the top ranking and receiving the civic honors doesn't change anything for Murray, who said he faces "the same pressure, same expectations. I've never won here -- I'm going to try to change that this year."
Wawrinka, who made his Grand Slam breakthrough in Australia in 2014, narrowly scraped past 35th-ranked Martin Klizan 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.
In the ninth game of the fifth set, Wawrinka smashed a soft half-volley from Klizan straight back into the Slovakian's body, clipping the frame and just missing his midsection. He stepped over the net and ensured Klizan was OK, then held serve in that game and broke in the next game to finish it off.
Nishikori beat Andrey Kuznetsov 7-5, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6), 6-2. Joining him in the second round are 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic, 2008 Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 19 John Isner, No. 23 Jack Sock, No. 27 Bernard Tomic, No. 29 Viktor Troicki and No. 31 Sam Querrey.
Also, No. 14 Nick Kyrgios returned from his suspension for underperforming in Shanghai last year and raced through a 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win over Gastao Elias.
No. 16 Lucas Pouille was the highest-ranked of the three men's seeded players to lose.
Five of the women's seeded players went out, including No. 4 Simona Halep, who lost 6-3, 6-1 to Shelby Rogers in the first match on Rod Laver Arena, and No. 15 Roberta Vinci, who lost to CoCo Vandeweghe.
Seven-time major winner Venus Williams beat Kateryna Kozlova 7-6 (5), 7-5, and 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard continued her recent resurgence by routing Louisa Chirico 6-0, 6-4.
Joining them in the next round will be French Open champion Garbine Muguruza, Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig, No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 10 Carla Suarez, No. 11 Elina Svitolina and No. 20 Zhang Shuai.
Sixteen-year-old Destanee Aiava became the first player born in this millennium to play in the main draw of a major, but the milestone match ended in a 6-3, 7-6 (4) loss to Mona Barthel.
|Switzerland's Roger Federer celebrates after defeating Austria's Jurgen Melzer in their first round match at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia on Jan. 16.|
(Photo: Aaron Favila, AP)
Roger Federer shakes off nerves, survives first test at Australian Open
It wasn’t an exhibition of the near-flawless style we’ve become accustomed to associating with Roger Federer when he played his first official match in six months at the Australian Open on Monday night.
The magic was clearly not consistently there. Instead of steady impeccable shot-making there was some uncharacteristic lunging serves and finger-crossing moments. The great one — the 17-time Grand Slam champion — didn’t always look like the guy many consider to be the best to ever pick up a racket.
But he can be forgiven as he’s never before been on the comeback trail.
Federer, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to repair a torn meniscus last February, managed his way through to a 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 win over fellow 35-year-old Jurgen Melzer of Austria.
Sometimes the best advice for a player not delivering his finest is the message that a win is a win. For at least one match Federer appeared willing to accept a few flaws in place of natural finesse.
“This year hasn’t been so tough yet,” Federer told the crowd. “It’s nice to be playing normal tennis again on a court like this. It was a long road. I’m back in the main draw and that’s a beautiful thing. Any match is a good match because I’m back on the court.”
In the big picture of the 2 hour, 6 minute match, Federer still posted 19 aces, but also only saved one of four break points he presented Melzer. The Austrian, who was once top 10, is also on the comeback trail from shoulder surgery, and currently weighs in as the 300th-ranked player.
It’s worth noting that Melzer is also Federer’s least favorite type of player to face as he’s a lefty.
“I thought my serve was on and off in the beginning, which surprised me a little bit, because in practice, Hopman Cup, it’s been going pretty well,” Federer said. “I think there were definitely some nerves there. I was feeling nervous once the match actually started and I was actually fine all day.”
The question that’s swirled around Federer since he captured his 17th Grand Slam trophy at the 2012 Wimbledon is if there’s an 18th major in his future?
Obviously, the first crack at that possibility is here in Melbourne where he’s already won the title on four occasions, but not since he bypassed Andy Murray in the 2010 final.
These are different times for Federer and not just because at 35 years of age he can legitimately be considered a senior citizen in the tennis world. This is his first experience returning from a long layoff and it’s anyone’s guess how that will go during the weeks ahead.
The injury came to be the day after he lost in last year’s Australian Open semifinal when bathing his children. In early February, he had surgery and only played at five more tournaments throughout the season.
Finally, on July 26 of last season, following a Wimbledon semifinal showing, Federer determined it was time to shut down his season. Horror of horrors. The great one turned out not to be indestructible after all.
There were those that thought we might’ve seen the end of Federer. How in the world would he come back from six months off at his age?
But walking away so easily would never suit Federer’s personality. He’s a champions’ champion. When he goes out he’ll want to do it on his own terms.
“In a way it doesn’t surprise me because I’ve been talking about retirement for seven years,” Federer said. “Naturally this was the perfect opening for people to ask that question yet again, think to themselves, Why more?’ I get it. It’s fine. I’ll keep answering it.”
The second round will deliver Long Island’s own Noah Rubin, a 20-year-old who is now 2-2 in Grand Slam matches played. Rubin defeated fellow American Bjorn Fratangelo 6-7 (4), 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in his first five-set career match and wasn’t upset to draw Federer as his second round opponent.
“You know, of course you don’t want to play him first,” Rubin said. “Yes, you want to go deep, but wouldn't it be an amazing thing to win a round and then play Fed. I don’t know how many years he has left. Honestly, we don’t know. It’s just one of those things to be on the court with him, compete with him and work your butt off to play against him would be a really great experience.”
As for Federer, he admitted he wasn’t overly familiar with Rubin, but he was aware of one thing that brought a smile to his face: “I know he’s a righty and that’s a good thing.”
Australian Open: Roger Federer hits 46 winners in slam comeback
Roger Federer glided around the court as if he had never been away, each shot eroding any hopes Jurgen Melzer had of ending one of tennis's most anticipated comebacks prematurely.
Federer, playing in his first official match after a six-month injury break, slammed 46 winners in a 7-5 3-6 6-2 6-2 defeat of the Austrian qualifier on the first day of the Australian Open.
"This year hasn't been so tough yet, last year was tough," Federer joked during a court-side interview at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne.
Earlier in the day, top seeds Angelique Kerber and Andy Murray were both given a workout in the Australian heat as they overcame tough Ukrainian opponents to reach the second round.
"It's nice to be playing normal tennis again on a center court like this, it's beautiful," Federer said.
"Couldn't be happier I am here now. It was a long road and I made it. I'm in the draw which is a beautiful thing and I hope I can stick around for a little bit. First rounds are never easy for anybody, just happy I live another day."
The former top-ranked Swiss, the winner of 17 majors including four Australian Open titles, and 2010 French Open semi-finalist Melzer first played each other when they were juniors.
Now both 35 years of age and recently having overcome surgery -- Federer on his knee a year ago and Melzer on his shoulder in 2015 -- the Swiss was in command for most of the match.
Firing off 19 aces and rushing to the net 24 times, Federer was at times so dominant, he even won 16 points in a row from 4-5 in the first set.
His concentration lapsed in the second set, which he lost despite leading 3-1.
He then quickly restored order as he won the next two sets in just under an hour with attacking play that had the crowd roaring with delight at times.
Stan's body shot
Competing in his 18th Australian Open, Federer faces another qualifier, 200th-ranked American Noah Rubin, in the second round.
Meanwhile on Hisense Arena, Swiss No. 1 and former Australian Open former champion Stan Wawrinka overcame a five-set scare against Martin Klizan, 4-6 6-4 7-5 4-6 6-4.
There was a controversial moment in the match, as reigning US Open winner Wawrinka drilled a blistering forehand into Klizan standing at the net which had the Slovak doubling up in agony.
Defending champion Kerber of Germany squandered a match point in the second set before battling past 51st-ranked Lesia Tsurenko, 6-2 5-7 6-2.
"First rounds are always tough," Kerber said in a televised court-side interview. "But I always enjoy it here."
Kerber's ascent to the top of the women's rankings started a year ago in Melbourne, when she came back from a match point down in the opening round to win the tournament.
She knocked 22-time major singles winner Serena Williams off the top spot after winning her second major of the season at the US Open in September.
Murray, who overtook defending Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic as the world No. 1 at the end of last season, overcame Illya Marchenko in three close sets.
Britain's Murray, seeking his first Australian Open title after five finals defeats, prevailed 7-5 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 against the 95th-ranked Marchenko as temperatures rose to as high as 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit).
"I didn't move that well," Murray told reporters after the match. "That's how it felt anyway. But sometimes that can also be down to the conditions, as well.
"The ball's flying through the air a little bit quicker, so the ball is coming onto you faster than what it was the last few days. Maybe wasn't reacting as quickly as I would have liked."
Earlier, American Shelby Rogers -- world No. 52 -- pulled off the biggest shock of day one so far when she upset the fourth-seeded Romanian Simon Halep, 6-3 6-1.
Halep told reporters later on she had been struggling with tendinitis on her knee which hampered her movement.
Five-time Wimbledon winner Venus Williams, French Open champion Garbine Muguruza and men's fifth seed Kei Nishikori all moved to the second round.