Melbourne: Novak Djokovic warned his rivals he will only get better after making a commanding start to his quest for a hat-trick of Australian Open titles.
The Serbian world number one was in imperious form as he tossed aside Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 in just 1hr 42min on Rod Laver Arena to waltz into the second round of the year’s first Grand Slam event.
Djokovic is bidding to become the first player in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian Opens, and he brushed aside the 60th-ranked Mathieu for his 15th straight match win in Melbourne.
“It was a good performance for a first round,” he said. “It’s expected in the first match you’re still not 100 percent on the court.
“You’re trying to, but it’s going to get better with matches that I play. Hopefully I can continue on with the same rhythm.”
The top seed sent out a clear message that he has the appetite to go after his fourth Australian crown, and his sixth major title overall, at the venue where he broke through for his first Grand Slam win in 2008.
The Serb did not drop serve and broke the Frenchman’s service four times in a masterful performance ahead of his next round encounter with American Ryan Harrison.
Djokovic needed a record 5hr 53min to overcome Rafael Nadal in last year’s five-set epic Australian Open final, but Nadal is not in Melbourne this time as he recovers from a virus.
Elsewhere, Czech fifth seed and two-time quarter-finalist Tomas Berdych accounted for American Michael Russell 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 and Spanish 10th seed Nicolas Almagro needed five sets and 3hr 10min to douse American qualifier Steve Johnson.
Japan’s Kei Nishikori eased doubts over a knee injury as beat Romania’s Victor Hanescu in four sets.
A left knee injury forced the 16th seed out of this month’s Brisbane International and Kooyong Classic tournaments but he showed little discomfort in surging home 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 against the 63rd-ranked Hanescu.
Nishikori, 23, Asia’s big hope in the men’s draw, recovered from dropping the opening set in a tiebreaker to take the match in 2hr 39min and will face Argentina’s Carlos Berlocq in the next round.
“It feels good. I think it’s no problem. I played four sets, it’s fine and it should be okay,” Nishikori said of his knee tendinitis.
“I had an echo (scan) a couple of days ago. I saw the picture and it showed nothing. It’s good.”
Nishikori reached the quarter-finals at last year’s Australian Open, the best-ever Grand Slam performance by a Japanese man.
French 32nd seed Julien Benneteau, Austrian seed Jurgen Meltzer, Swiss 15th seed Stanislas Wawrinka and Spaniard Fernando Verdasco were other opening day winners.