Australian Open – Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka come through unscathed
The city’s mixed feelings about the tournament were evident in sparse crowds at Melbourne Park but that did not bother seven-time champion Williams or title favourite Osaka.
Wearing a striking one-legged catsuit that she later revealed was inspired by 1980s athletics star Florence Griffith Joyner, Williams brushed aside Germany’s Laura Siegemund 6-1 6-1 in just 56 minutes.
The 39-year-old made a nervous start to her 100th match at the tournament, dropping serve in the opening game, but won the next 10 to ease through to a second-round clash with Nina Stojanovic.
Williams had pulled out of last week’s warm-up event with a shoulder problem, and said: “I was happy just to get through it. I wasn’t sure how my serve would be after a little bit of that shoulder, but it’s feeling good, I’m feeling good.”
It was a successful day for the Williams family, with Venus claiming her first victory at a grand slam since 2019.
The 40-year-old, who is playing in a record 88th grand slam main draw, defeated 35-year-old Kirsten Flipkens 7-5 6-2.
Like Williams, Osaka withdrew from last week’s warm-up event with a shoulder problem but she made it clear it was precautionary and was in fine fettle in a 6-1 6-2 victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Pavlyuchenkova had reached the quarter-finals in three of the past four years but Osaka was simply far too sharp, winning the opening four games and barely putting a foot wrong.
Britain’s Katie Boulter was upset with her performance when losing to Daria Kasatkina.
Boulter came into the tournament with confidence high after a strong week last week, claiming two victories at the Gippsland Trophy and taking a set off Osaka.
That raised hopes the 24-year-old British No 9 could make an impression at the year’s first grand slam but she was caught cold and fell to a 6-1 6-4 defeat.
Boulter said: “I’m pretty disappointed. I felt like I never really got going, I felt quite uncomfortable out on the court. I put a lot of pressure on myself when really there was absolutely no need to.
“I really struggled to just get some rhythm and get into the match and compete. I’m pretty upset about it.”
French Open champion Iga Swiatek negotiated her first hurdle successfully, beating Arantxa Rus 6-1 6-3.
Three-time grand slam winner Angelique Kerber was a shock casualty though. The German, one of 72 players to endure a hard quarantine, lost the first nine games in a 6-0 6-4 defeat by Bernarda Pera.
There was a notable victory, meanwhile, for Canadian qualifier Rebecca Marino.
The 30-year-old was playing her first grand slam main draw match for eight years after stepping away from the sport in 2013 for mental health reasons, and her 6-0 7-6 (9) victory over Kimberly Birrell was her first at this level for a decade.
Marino said: “I feel a lot more confident in my playing ability and my mental strength and fortitude. I feel like I still have my big serve and my forehand but a lot of it was between my ears, just fighting for every point, having a confidence that I know I belong here again.”
It was also a good day for fellow Canadian Bianca Andreescu, who won her first game in 15 months.
Andreescu suffered a knee injury just a month after winning the 2019 US Open and has only just got back on court, beating Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2 4-6 6-3.
She said: “Last night I did cry, and I’m not afraid to say that because everyone cries sometimes.
“But it’s a good release for me because in my head, all I was thinking about were the last 15 months and how tough they were, and they were tough for many reasons, Covid being one of them, and then my knee injury, being ready to play Indian Wells, Miami, and then Covid hitting. That wasn’t easy.”
World number two Simona Halep enjoyed a comfortable opening-round win, seeing off Lizette Cabrera.
Opening the evening session on the Rod Laver Arena, Halep put the 23-year-old to the sword, winning 6-2 6-1 in just 59 minutes.
The Romanian is eyeing her first title in Melbourne, having got to the final in 2018.
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click HERE to subscribe.