Favourites advance at Australian Open

Federer, Nadal and Clijsters cruise through in Melbourne amid rumours of a late-season men's strike over prize money.

    Defending women's champion Kim Clijsters showed no signs of a recent hip injury as she eased past Portugal's Maria Joao Koehler [GALLO/GETTY]

    Top players moved to dampen down talk of a potential revolt and rift in the men's ranks as the Australian Open got underway in stifling conditions on Monday with Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer both winning.

    After a week of drizzle and heavy cloud cover, blue skies welcomed the players to the tournament's opening day with temperatures rising quickly in the morning and flirting with 30 degrees Celsius before midday.

    The heat, however, was the least of their concerns as some of the men began to openly discuss the possibility of a strike later in the season unless they and the ATP could come to an agreement on a more equitable split of prize money and a revamped playing schedule.

    "It's (strike) such a dangerous word to use," world number three Federer said after his first-round victory over Russian qualifier Alexander Kudryavtsev.

    "That's why I always say, 'let's try to avoid it as much as we can'. I think that would be the best for all of us: you guys, fans, tournaments, players.

    "It's not good for anyone really. We've seen it in other sports happening in the States.

    "That's why I'm always very careful about it."

    Nadal through

    While temperatures rose behind the scenes, world number two Nadal took advantage of cooler conditions in the early evening and romped into the second round with a 6-4 6-1 6-1 victory over Alex Kuznetsov.

    Women's champion Kim Clijsters also got her title defence off to a strong start with a 7-5 6-1 win over Portugal's Maria Joao Koehler, while world number one Caroline Wozniacki smashed Australia's Anastasia Rodionova 6-2 6-1 in 76 minutes.

    Nadal, who had been suffering from a niggling shoulder injury, said his perpetually troubled knees had caused him some concern on Sunday when he suffered "unbelievable pain" in his right knee when he straightened it.

    However, the 10-times grand slam winner managed to receive treatment on Sunday and while his knee was heavily strapped on Monday, he had little trouble in advancing to the second round.

    Earlier, local fans had plenty to cheer with teenager Bernard Tomic coming back from a two-set deficit to beat 22nd seed and 2009 Melbourne Park semi-finalist Fernando Verdasco 4-6 6-7 6-4 6-2 7-5 in four hours, 11 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

    The gangly Tomic has now assumed the mantle from Lleyton Hewitt as the host country's main hope for a first men's title since Mark Edmondson in 1976.

    After some youthful and ill-received bravado earlier in his career, Tomic is taking local expectations in his giant stride.

    "The crowd always want an Australian in the final...but they don't realise it's one of the hardest things in the world," Tomic said.

    "To have so many world class players you have to beat on the way to get to the quarters, let alone a final, it's the hardest thing.

    "I'm only going to learn and get confidence, and one day be in the position to get to the finals of majors."

    Australian women's wildcard Casey Dellacqua came back from a period of two years off following shoulder and foot surgeries to set up a second-round clash against third seed Victoria Azarenka after a 6-3 6-2 win over Serbia's Bojana Jovanovski.

    Caffeine fix

    In need of a caffeine fix: Victoria Azarenka [GETTY]

    Azarenka had missed her morning coffee and was in no mood to hang around in the Melbourne heat, getting her campaign off to a flying start with a 6-1 6-0 victory over Britain's Heather Watson.

    Azarenka, who only arrived in Melbourne on Saturday after she won the Sydney International title, needed just 67 minutes to beat Watson though she paid a high price for an early morning practice session on the main Rod Laver Arena.

    "Actually, I didn't get my coffee in the morning today, so I was really pissed off," the 22-year-old said to laughter.

    "So tomorrow I'm definitely getting it.

    "It was so early and I wanted to come play a little bit longer on centre court. Everything was closed.

    "I said, 'Oh my God, I need my coffee'."

    Former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro looked like he needed a caffeine jolt in his match against French left-hander Adrian Mannarino before eventually running out a 2-6 6-1 7-5 6-4 winner in just under three hours.

    "He's a lefty and he makes different shots," Del Potro said.

    "He started much better than me in the first set, and then it was tough to fight behind the score.
    "But I did my things, my game and I took all the opportunities to beat him."

    SOURCE: Reuters


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