Federer in grand form at Australian Open | AspenTimes.com

Federer in grand form at Australian Open

John Pye
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Switzerland's Roger Federer returns to Argentina's Diego Hartfield during their first round Men's Singles match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2008. (AP Photo/Rick Stevens)

MELBOURNE, Australia ” Sick and tired of talk about his stomach bug, Roger Federer wanted to show he was in Grand Slam form.

He left nobody in doubt.

The man who has had the No. 1 ranking just about glued to him for almost four years began his bid for a third straight Australian Open title Tuesday by doing something he had never done at Melbourne Park.

He opened the season’s first major without dropping a game in the first set at Rod Laver Arena, beating Argentina’s Diego Hartfield 6-0, 6-3, 6-0. In eight previous trips to Melbourne, he had never swept the opening set.

Federer has not played a competitive match in two months. He withdrew from the Kooyong exhibition last week after being told by doctors he had food poisoning, causing speculation about his fitness.

“I could have maybe played on Saturday, but I didn’t want all the fuss ” the media, analyzing my game, thinking they know best and all that,” Federer said. “I took an extra day. It’s tough, but I played a couple of sets out here the last few days and it’s paid off.”

Unable to get his usual fine-tuning done at Kooyong, Federer had to settle for doing it in real time. He tested his entire arsenal, mixing his powerful backhands and forehands with some rushes to the net, and alternating serves wide and down the line on the new blue surface.

“Everything was working perfectly,” said Federer, who is 26-1 in the last four Australian Opens and has figured in the last 10 Grand Slam finals. “I never expect a result this extreme obviously, but I was playing well in practice, moving well, serving well, and conditions were perfect.”

Just before Federer went on court, things turned violent among spectators during a match between Greece’s Konstantinos Economidis and seventh-seeded Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, last year’s losing finalist.

Tournament officials said play was interrupted for five minutes while police subdued three people with pepper spray. Five were evicted and banned from the venue for at least 24 hours.

Wimbledon champion Venus Williams played her first match in three years at the Australian Open. She downed China’s Yan Zi 6-2, 7-5 but hit 29 unforced errors and only 19 winners.

“Errors happen,” Williams said. “That’s tennis.”

She was a first-round loser in 2006 and missed last year because of injuries, watching from a distance when sister Serena made a stunning run to the title.

Serena Williams, unseeded and ranked No. 81 when she beat top-seeded Maria Sharapova in last year’s final, plays Wednesday in the second round against China’s Yuan Meng.

No. 5 Sharapova has the toughest second-round match of the highly ranked players, facing 2000 Australian champion Lindsay Davenport in the night match on center court Wednesday.

Davenport is in her first Grand Slam and only fifth tournament since returning to the tour following the birth last June of her son. She needed three sets to beat Italy’s Sara Errani in the first round and extend her record to 19-1 since her comeback.

No. 1 Justine Henin will open on center court against Olga Poutchkova. No. 10 Marion Bartoli, the only player to beat Henin in the last six months ” in the Wimbledon semifinals ” was the highest of four seeded women players ousted in the first round Tuesday, losing to Sweden’s Sofia Arvidsson.

Advancing were No. 2-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 4 Ana Ivanovic, No. 6 Anna Chakvetadze, No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova and No. 14 Nadia Petrova.

On the men’s side, No. 3 Novak Djokovic beat Benjamin Becker 6-0, 6-2, 7-6 (5) and then delighted the crowd with an impersonation of Sharapova ” at the behest of the TV commentator.

He didn’t want to do it initially, having been criticized for similar antics at the U.S. Open. But then he did a good impression of the Russian star’s serve, right down to her tendency to brush strands of her long blonde hair back over her ears. Djokovic said he knew she wouldn’t mind.

No. 10 David Nalbandian, who beat both Federer and No. 2 Rafael Nadal at consecutive tournaments to win the Madrid and Paris titles last year, recovered from back spasms that forced him out of the Kooyong exhibition in a routine win over Australian Robert Smeets.

Australia’s top prospect, former U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt, had little trouble beating Steve Darcis of Belgium, advancing with No. 12 James Blake, 2005 champion Marat Safin and 2006 runner-up Marcos Baghdatis, who defeated 2002 champion Thomas Johansson.

Nadal, the only player to beat Federer in the last 10 Grand Slams ” in the last two French Open finals ” plays Florent Serra on Wednesday and No. 6 Andy Roddick takes on Michael Berrer.

Federer has a day off to prepare for his second-round match against Fabrice Santoro, the 35-year-old Frenchman who broke Andre Agassi’s record for most Grand Slam appearances in the Open era when he beat American John Isner to kick off his 62nd major.

At 26, Federer is playing his 35th major and is two shy of Sampras’ record 14 Grand Slam titles. He is 8-2 against Santoro, but is expecting a difficult match against a “real tactician.”

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