MELBOURNE: Roger Federer returned from a six-month layoff to beat fellow 35-year-old Jurgen Melzer just before midnight on day one of the Australian Open, agreeing it felt a bit like coming home.
The 17-time major winner hadn’t played at tour level since Wimbledon, giving his injured left knee time to heal.
He served 19 aces and had only one double-fault in a 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 win on Monday over Melzer, but dropped serve three times and had moments of frustration.
“It’s nice to be playing normal tennis again,” he said. “It was a long road [but] I’m in the draw, which is a beautiful thing.” Federer surprised himself by still feeling nervous when the match started, and took a while to settle down.
“I was fine all day … I felt fine. Then I hit four frames in a row,” he said. “It was like, ‘Whew, it’s not as easy as I thought it was going to be,’” he said. “Think I struggled for a while to find that groove, that rhythm.”
Federer has won four Australian titles and reached the semi-finals or better in 12 of the previous 13 years, and making himself at home on Rod Laver Arena.
He’ll play another qualifier in the second round after Noah Rubin beat Bjorn Fratangelo.
Plenty of highly-ranked players concurred that first rounds are never easy, including defending champion and top-ranked Angelique Kerber and US Open champion Stan Wawrinka.
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 (7-5), 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.
Kerber, who is defending a major title and is also the No 1 seed at a Grand Slam 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 here last year, beating Serena Williams in the final after saving match point in the first round.
So 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.
“To be honest, I was thinking about this,” she said. “When I lost the second set, and I had match point, I was thinking about my match last year in the first round first rounds are always tough.”
Wawrinka, who made his Grand Slam breakthrough in Australia in 2014, had a tough time in the first night match on Margaret Court Arena, scraping 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 to ensure Klizan was OK, then went on to hold serve and broke in the next game to finish off in three hours, 24 minutes.
Fifth seed Kei Nishikori also needed three hours to beat Andrey Kuznetsov 7-5, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 6-2, while Australia’s often hot-headed Nick Kyrgios was uncharacteristically calm as he thumped Gastao Elias 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, despite a nosebleed which halted him mid-match.
Marin Cilic, the 2014 US Open winner, needed five sets as he came from two sets down to dispatch Jerzy Janowicz 4-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.
Lucas Pouille, the 16th seed, was the highest-ranked man to lose on day one.
Five of the women’s seeds lost on the opening day, led by fourth seed Simona Halep, who lost 6-3, 6-1 to Shelby Rogers in the first match on Rod Laver Arena.
French Open champion Garbine Muguruza needed a medical timeout before advancing 7-5, 6-4 over Marina Erakovic.
Seven-time major winner Venus Williams beat Kateryna Kozlova 7-6 (7-5), 7-5, avoiding back-to-back first-round exits at Melbourne Park, and 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard continued her recent resurgence by winning the last of the night matches 6-0, 6-4 against Louisa Chirico in 56 minutes.
China’s Zhang Shuai, who made a surprise run to last year’s quarter-finals, had a 6-0, 6-3 win over Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus and Olympic champion Monica Puig stormed through 6-0, 6-1 against Patricia Tig.
CoCo Vandeweghe overcame a bout of nausea to beat 15th-seeded Roberta Vinci 6-1, 7-6 (7-3).
The 16-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 (7-4) loss to Mona Barthel.