Serena Williams swats doubts, Bencic aside, Federer soars


Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - 17/1/17 Serena Williams of the U....
Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - 17/1/17 Serena Williams of the U.S. reacts during her Women's singles first round match against Switzerland's Belinda Bencic. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Serena Williams launched her bid for a 23rd grand slam title with a 6-4 6-3 win over Belinda Bencic at the Australian Open on Tuesday, swatting aside doubts over her fitness and motivation on a sweltering day at Melbourne Park.

The 35-year-old American came into the tie with two matches under her belt since the U.S. Open last September but moved superbly under a hot sun at Rod Laver Arena to rout the Swiss talent in 79 minutes.

Kept honest for most of the first set, Williams ramped up the pressure at 4-4 to win seven straight games before Bencic stalled her victory charge with a late rally.

Williams wobbled with a double-fault on match point but smashed a volley on her second to close it out and set up a second round clash against Czech Lucie Safarova.

-Federer back with win-

Roger Federer made a winning return to competitive tennis after six months out of the game on Monday (January 16), 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.

In the women’s draw defending champion and top seed Angelique Kerber battled her nerves and faltered badly with victory in sight before finally overcoming Lesia Tsurenko 6-2 5-7 6-2 to reach the second round.

The 28-year-old German was starting the defence of a grand slam title for the first time and initially struggled with her serve and the accuracy of her groundstrokes on Rod Laver Arena.

Once she found her range, however, Kerber proved more than a match for world number 51 Tsurenko, who was reduced to scrapping to save her serve and the odd pearl of a consolation point off her rasping backhand.

The German’s nerves returned when Kerber was serving for the match, however, and the world number one started ballooning shots all over the place, allowing her Ukrainian opponent to break back for 5-5.

Tsurenko grasped her opportunity with both hands and broke the Australian and U.S. Open champion again after a marathon nine-minute game to send the match into a decider.

The third set developed into a battle of wills but Kerber grabbed the key break for a 4-2 lead before rattling off the next two games to set up a second round tie against compatriot Carina Witthoeft.

Fourth seed and 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka suffered a huge scare against Slovak Martin Klizan but the Swiss three-times grand slam champion battled through to win 4-6 6-4 7-5 4-6 6-4 on Margaret Court Arena.

Australian Nick Kyrgios did little wrong against Gastao Elias, beating the Portuguese 6-1 6-2 6-2 in an hour and 25 minutes in the first round.

The 14th seed faces Italian Andreas Seppi in the next round.

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