Tennis: Ruthless Nadal, Federer and Wozniacki fly on but brave Murray out of Australian Open after five-set epic

(Clockwise from top left) Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki are through to the second round, while Andy Murray fought to the end before losing an epic Australian Open farewell match.
(Clockwise from top left) Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki are through to the second round, while Andy Murray fought to the end before losing an epic Australian Open farewell match.PHOTOS: AFP, EPA-EFE, REUTERS

MELBOURNE (AFP) - A ruthless Rafael Nadal showed no mercy in a clinical first-round thumping of James Duckworth at the Australian Open on Monday (Jan 14), with fellow former champions Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber and Maria Sharapova also romping through.

In evening play, the ageless Roger Federer warmed up for a run at a record seventh title here by breezing past Uzbek Denis Istomin in straight sets to book a spot in the second round.

The 37-year-old Swiss master made light of his assignment on Rod Laver Arena to wrap up the match 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 as he confidently began the defence of his title.

He has won the last two tournaments at Melbourne Park in a late career resurgence and is now angling for a 21st major victory.

It was great to be back here, I was brought some good energy and played some good shots," said third seed Federer. The world No. 3 next plays Britain's Daniel Evans, who battled past Japan's Tatsuma Ito in three sets.

A gutsy Andy Murray, meanwhile, fought to the end before losing an epic Australian Open farewell match 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (4-7), 6-2 to Roberto Bautista Agut.

The Briton, who said he will retire this season because of chronic hip pain, seemed down and out at two sets and a break down to the 22nd seeded Spaniard but somehow fought back to force a fifth set.

Bautista Agut will face unseeded Australian John Millman in the second round after the 4hr 9min epic.

Spanish 17-time Grand Slam winner Nadal, who cut short his 2018 season to have surgery on a foot injury, cruised into round two of the year's opening major 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 against Australian wildcard Duckworth.

"Not easy to come back after a lot of months, especially against a player playing super aggressive on every point," said the 2009 champion here, who showed no sign of any injury worries.

"The energy I feel in this place is fantastic," he added.

The second seed is bidding to become the first man in the Open era, and only the third in history along with Roy Emerson and Rod Laver, to win each Grand Slam on two or more occasions.

Fifth seed Kevin Anderson progressed, as did NextGen Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas. But ninth seed John Isner became the first leading player to crash out.

The 6ft 10in (2.08m) Isner came out second best in the battle of the giants against 6ft 11in (2.11m) fellow American Reilly Opelka 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (8-6), 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-5).

World No. 3 Wozniacki, who made her Grand Slam breakthrough in Melbourne last year, opened her defence with a convincing 6-3, 6-4 win over Belgium's Alison van Uytvanck.

It was an emotional win for the Dane, who is struggling with rheumatoid arthritis and she was in tears afterwards.

"Last year I had some special memories and just to be able to be back out here on Rod Laver Arena is something extremely special and emotional," she said.

Good test for Sharapova

Second seed and 2016 champion Angelique Kerber was also impressive, sweeping past Slovenia's Polona Hercog 6-2, 6-2.

Sharapova, a winner at Melbourne in 2008, signalled her intent with a rare 6-0, 6-0 double bagel demolition of Britain's Harriet Dart.

Playing in her 15th Australian Open, the three-time finalist said she was pleased to go through so easily as she battles back from injuries.

"It was a good test for my leg, for my shoulder," she said.

"I'm still working through some painful days. But, you know, I felt like I did all the right things today in order to get through that match."

Fifth seeded Sloane Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion who struggled in her warm-up tournaments in Brisbane and Sydney, got back to business with an easy two-set win against fellow American Taylor Townsend.

Eleventh seed Aryna Sabalenka, widely tipped as a potential future champion, also safely negotiated round one on a hot day. But Germany's 14th seed Julia Gorges was knocked out, as was former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

Britain's Katie Boulter, meanwhile, created a slice of history by becoming the first woman to win in a third set tie-break - a new rule introduced to the Open this year.

Instead of playing to the death, third or fifth sets now go to a tie-break when the score reaches 6-6 and it becomes the first to 10.

It seemed Boulter was not told, fist-pumping and walking to the net at 7-4 before being reminded of the new rule. She went on to beat Russia's Ekaterina Makarova 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (10-6).

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova strolled into the second round with a straight-sets win over Magdelena Rybarikova of Slovakia.

The Czech eighth seed struggled with her serve early in the match before finding her rhythm for a 6-3, 6-2 victory.

The 28-year-old has been in strong form, winning last week's Sydney International and will next play Irina-Camelia Begu. Her best result at Melbourne Park is a run to the semi-finals in 2012.