MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA: Novak Djokovic had a big, adoring crowd at Rod Laver Arena, and he knew exactly how to work it.
Writing “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” on a live TV camera lens with a felt-tip pen was the perfect way to sign off after his 15th consecutive win at the Australian Open.
Having the confidence to charm a crowd of thousands comes with experience — he has won the past two Australian titles and is aiming to be the first man in the Open era to win three in succession.
“Hello, everybody, it’s great to be back,” he said after his 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 win over Paul-Henri Mathieu of France, his first match at Melbourne Park since his epic five-set win over Rafael Nadal in last year’s final.
David Ferrer, who took the No. 4 seeding when fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal withdrew because of illness and injury, had only a couple of hundred people watching in cavernous Hisense Arena on Day One at Melbourne Park. He opened with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Olivier Rochus of Belgium.
The four majors in 2012 were shared by Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray, the Scotsman who finally ended the 76-year drought for British men at the Grand Slam events by winning the U.S. Open. With Nadal out, the “Big 4” has become the “Big 3,” with nobody else in the top 10 given a realistic chance of winning.
Djokovic doesn’t have another Grand Slam winner in his half of the draw after his Serbian Davis Cup teammate Janko Tipsarevic ousted Australian veteran Lleyton Hewitt, a former U.S. Open and Wimbledon winner, in a night match.
Federer, who has four Australian titles among his 17 majors, and Murray, who broke his Grand Slam drought by winning the U.S. Open, have their first-round matches today in what shapes as a blockbuster day session at Rod Laver Arena.
Murray is against Robin Haase in the first match and Federer is against Benoit Paire of France in the third. Women’s champion Victoria Azarenka takes in Monica Niculescu of Romania in between.
Congestion on center court means No. 3 seed Serena Williams, the big favorite to win the women’s title, will play her first-round match at Hisense Arena against Romania’s Edina Gallovits-Hall, who is ranked No. 110.
Williams sat in the stands with coach Patrick Mouratoglou to watch sister Venus win her opening match.
Fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych reached the 2010 Wimbledon final and beat Federer in the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open before losing to Murray.
He beat American Michael Russell 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 in his opening match Monday.
Four American men advanced Monday, led by No. 20 Sam Querrey. Querry beat Daniel Munoz-de la Nava of Spain 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
Brian Baker fended off Russia’s Alex Bogomolov Jr. 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-7 (0), 3-6, 6-2; Tim Smyczek beat Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic 6-4, 7-6 (5), 7-5; and Ryan Harrison’s reward for beating Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 is a second-round match against Djokovic.
Among the other men’s seeds advancing were No. 10 Nicolas Almagro, No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka, No. 16 Kei Nishikori and No. 22 Fernando Verdasco, a semifinalist in Australia in 2009.
No. 11 Juan Monaco of Argentina lost to Andrey Kuznetsov of Russia 7-6 (3), 6-1, 6-1.
The first two women’s matches were over quickly, with No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova finishing off a 6-0, 6-0 win over Olga Puchkova in 55 minutes. Venus Williams needed just an hour for her opening 6-1, 6-0 win over Galina Voskoboeva of Kazakhstan.