Roger Federer made a winning return to competitive tennis after six months out of the game yesterday, thrilling a packed Rod Laver Arena as he beat qualifier Juergen Melzer 7-5 3-6 6-2 6-2 to reach the Australian Open second round.
The 35-year-old Swiss had to battle hard throughout the two-hour, six minute contest and only really eased clear of his dogged opponent when the Austrian tired in the final set.
Federer could be forgiven a little rustiness after his prolonged absence to nurse a knee injury and made 36 unforced errors but there were also plenty of reminders of the brilliant skills that have won him 17 grand slam titles, four at Melbourne Park.
Seeded 17th, Federer has much tougher battles ahead if he makes it through to the second week of the tournament but will next pit his skills against American qualifier Noah Rubin.
Federer’s compatriot Stan Wawrinka survived a scare from Slovakia’s Martin Klizan, fighting back from a break down in the final set to move into the next round with a 4-6 6-4 7-5 4-6 6-4 victory.
“It was a big fight tonight,” 2014 champion Wawrinka said on court after the match.
“The comeback came from fighting every day, on and off the court. It was a great atmosphere here and I am happy to be back. He was playing well, he was close to winning. It was a tough match.”
It took the world number four more than three hours to subdue his left-handed opponent to cries of “Allez Stan” from the crowd in the Margaret Court arena.
Earlier, Andy Murray took to centre court as top seed at a grand slam for the first time in his career but the recently knighted Briton’s victory over Illya Marchenko was far from a regal display.
A heavy-footed and rusty Murray had to dig himself out of a number of holes before securing a 7-5 7-6 6-2 win over the 95th-ranked Ukrainian, having spent far longer under a hot sun than he would have liked at Rod Laver Arena.
“I don’t think it was the best match, to be honest,” Murray told reporters after the two hours and 47 minute slog.
Murray has typically started the year’s first grand slam like a well-oiled machine but for the first two sets the only free movement came from the Scot’s vocal chords as he berated himself constantly for limp baseline play and wayward serving.
Murray progressed to a match against Russian qualifier Andrey Rublev who beat Taiwan’s Lu Yen-Hsun.
In the women’s tournament, defending champion Angelique Kerber battled her nerves and blew a match point in the second set before finally overcoming Lesia Tsurenko 6-2 5-7 6-2.
The top seeded German was starting the defence of a grand slam title for the first time and made harder and longer work than she might have of advancing to a meeting with compatriot Carina Witthoeft.
“I was actually feeling not too bad,” the 28-year-old said after basking in the applause on Rod Laver Arena, where she beat Serena Williams last year to win her first grand slam title.
“From the beginning, I was trying to play my game. I played a good match. There was a little bit where I didn’t play too good. I make some simple mistakes in the second set, at the end of the second set.
“But first round matches are always tough.”
Kerber perhaps had good reason to fear the embarrassment of becoming only the second woman to fall at the first hurdle in her title defence at the Australian Open.
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