MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A relieved Rafa Nadal felt the confidence come flooding back in a first-round romp at the Australian Open on Monday after former world number one Ana Ivanovic crashed out on the opening day at Melbourne Park.
Sixth seed Andy Murray enjoyed a solid first win as the leading men marched into the second round, but world number five Ivanovic, upset 1-6 6-3 6-2 by Czech doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka, was one of five women’s seeds to fall during a sun-drenched day session.
The upsets came earlier than expected and the intrigue was meant to occur on Rod Laver Arena, where third seed Nadal’s comeback from illness and injury was expected to be given a thorough examination by Russian veteran Mikhail Youzhny.
Within a handful of games, however, it was Youzhy plagued with doubts as his pink-clad Spanish opponent wasted little time easing into his grand slam groove before roaring to a 6-3 6-2 6-2 win in less than two hours.
“The second half of last year was tough mentally and physically,” Nadal said in a courtside interview. “So it was very emotional to be back on court.
“This first match here was tough mentally for me. I hope this match will give me confidence as I play the next round.”
Bidding for a maiden Australian Open title after three trips to the final, Murray’s 6-3 6-4 7-6(3) win over Indian qualifier Yuki Bhambri was not without some anxious moments, the Scot jarring his knee early in the second set and falling 4-1 behind in the third.
Murray yelled out “shocking movement!” when he lost his serve before composing himself to break back and seal the match in a one-sided tiebreak.
“The whole match he made it very difficult, he played very aggressively,” Murray said of Bhambri, the lowest-ranked player in the draw at 317.
“He’s very talented... He shouldn’t be ranked 300 in the world.”
Romania’s Simona Halep, seeded third and fancied to break through for a maiden grand slam title this year, had few worries in a 6-3 6-2 rout of Italian Karin Knapp before a number of her seeded rivals were swept away in the afternoon sun.
Teenage sensation Belinda Bencic was the first to fall, the 32nd-ranked Swiss losing to German world number 73 Julia Goerges 6-2 6-1.
Two-time grand slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, seeded 27th, was also sent packing by Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia and her 23rd seeded Russian compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova soon followed, going down to Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer.
But Hradecka, who played only three WTA events last year, caused the biggest upset by overhauling former French Open champion Ivanovic and squealed in disbelief after the out-of-sorts Serb bowed out with her 30th unforced error.
“I was so nervous in the beginning and same in the end. My hand was shaky,” a beaming Hradecka told the Rod Laver Arena crowd.
Former Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki was another high-profile casualty, the 28th-seeded German upset in three sets by 71st-ranked Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic.
With the men’s tournament regarded one of the most open in years, Grigor Dimitrov issued an ominous warning to the tennis establishment with a 6-2 6-3 6-2 rout of dread-locked Jamaican-born German Dustin Brown.
In terms of length, Brown’s hair was arguably superior to the 69-minute contest, which was over when his 10th seeded opponent bashed down his 11th ace.
Coached by Australian Roger Rasheed, Dimitrov began his breakout year in 2014 with a quarter-final appearance at Melbourne Park and was keen to garner more crowd support.
“I feel like an adopted Australian sometimes... It’s great (the crowd), it really boosts your confidence,” the Bulgarian said.
“It’s really good to be out here. I like the vibe.”
Additional reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O'Brien