January 16, 2018
Roger Federer eased past ex-Brit Aljaz Bedene, and then skilfully deflected some pressure as tournament favourite.
Just for a change, all eyes won’t necessarily be on the immaculate Federer in the second round anyway.
Because Novak Djokovic faces a mouth-watering test of his elbow and all-round fitness against the enigmatic and highly entertaining Gael Monfils.
Federer was quick to tell us that he has prepared for the possibility that Melbourne won’t provide the same dream come true that he enjoyed last year.
But if he can serve with this kind of ferocity all fortnight, he will be tough to beat, as he showed in this relatively simple 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win over Bedene.
Roger only conceded three points on serve during the entire first set, breaking his opponent in the fourth game.
From there it was relatively plain sailing, though Federer wasn’t getting carried away as he looked back and then ahead.
‘Last year was so good I’m just worried I know this year won’t be the same,’ he said. ‘Guys are coming back, Rafa seems to be in tip-top shape…but last year will always be in the vault.’
It’s understandable that the great man wants to play down his chances…as long as he doesn’t actually believe what he is saying!
Now that Federer has talked about last year, he had best leave it behind completely and ride the fresh wave of enthusiasm that could yet carry him all the way in 2018 too.
Roger isn’t just thinking about Rafael Nadal when he talks about guys coming back. Novak Djokovic produced a typically clinical performance to end the hopes of Donald Young 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
As long as his elbow holds up, Novak is a match for anyone. But can he come through that highly demanding showdown against the unpredictable Monfils?
If Djokovic safely negotiates that one, he will be a serious contender at the Australian Open.
True, Novak hasn’t played competitively since Wimbledon. But weren’t we saying the same about Federer this time last year?
It could be that in the next week or two, we start asking ourselves why we ever wrote off Djokovic. Of course, Monfils will feel he has something to say about the precise state of Novak’s recovery from long-term injury. It should be fascinating!
Sadly for Canada, we have no choice but to write off Milos Raonic in Melbourne, because he lost surprisingly to world number 86 Lukas Lacko.
Raonic won the opening breaker but then got overrun and was finally undone in a fourth-set tie-break to go down 7-6 (5), 5-7, 4-6, 6-7 (4) to the Slovakian.
There were happier openers for Stan Wawrinka and Maria Sharapova, who went through in four and two sets respectively. Sharapova was greeted warmly by a crowd more than ready to forget her doping ban.
The Aussie feel-good factor is working its magic already. Should be a great fortnight and it has only just begun!