Melbourne | Tsitsipas, Federer and Djokovic successfully launch AO bids
Stefanos Tsitsipas made a confident start to his Australian Open campaign and professed himself to be a more mature player than he was last year when he took out Roger Federer to make the semi-finals.
I get goosebumps when I think about what I went through and I hope to experience even better this year Stefanos Tsitsipas
At 21-years-of age and the youngest player to have won the ATP Tour Finals since Lleyton Hewitt in 2001, he is a clear contender for the Melbourne title in what is only his third appearance at the first major of the year.
After demolishing Italy’s Salvatore Caruso 6-0 6-2 6-3 he said: “I definitely feel like I’m more experienced now. Last year I did feel more as a kid who was trying to get confidence by doing certain things on the court.
“Now I feel like I’m more mature and more conserved in my thinking. I also think what I feel now compared to before, I’m just very sure with myself. I don’t really doubt myself that much.”
Tsitsipas arrived in Melbourne with many concerned with his performances at the ATP Cup where he lost to Denis Shapovalov and Nick Kyrgios before beating beating Alexander Zverev.
Despite those mixed results, the Greek’s confidence was certainly very evident as he overcame his opponent ranked 95 and the large Italian element within the crowd in the Margaret Court Arena who supported him loudly.
“I think from their side they should be a little bit more respectful to the opponents. That’s all,” he said of the fans’ incessant chanting. “Nothing else. I mean, they can do what they’re doing but probably with more respect.”
The 5’4” right-hander broke the Italian’s opening service game to quickly take charge, sprinting through the first set in just 22 minutes and conceding just nine points.
While Caruso recovered a bit in the second the end result was never in doubt.
“I tried to stay calm and be aggressive, I was very focused and in the zone,” said the sixth seed after the one hour and 45-minute match.
“I was very happy with the first set. It was almost perfect. I can’t remember the last time I went 6-0. It was good quality.”
Bidding to become the youngest A champion since Novak Djokovic (2008), Tsitsipas is keen to establish himself at grand slam level where he has failed to gest past the first round at Wimbledon and the US Open.
However he did follow up his semi-final appearance last year in Melbourne with a fourth round run at Roland Garros.
He said his experience Down Under last year still resonated with him.
“I get goosebumps when I think about what I went through and I hope to experience even better this year,” he said.
Meanwhile Roger Federer who has never lost in the first round since his debut 20 years ago, was equally – as expected – impressive as he swept aside Steve Johnson 6-3 6-2 6-2 in his bid for a 21st grand slam singles title.
Playing in what is his first tournament of the season, he has admitted indirectly that he lacks match practice.
“I think for me really the first three rounds are key to get going, to get used to the pressure, stay calm, when to save breakpoint or 30-all points or whatever it may be,” he said.
“This is sort of the unknown that can be a little bit scary at times.
“But today there was none of that because I broke early each set and was able to get on a roll, play freely after that.”
The Swiss icon got off to quick start racing into a 4-1 lead before rain interrupted play as the roof on the Rod Laver Arena was closed. On their return, Federer closed out the set in 27-minutes and basically kept Johnson at bay as he swept past the American in to te second round where he will face either French qualifier Quentin Halys or Serbian Filip Krajinovic, admitting “I have to be careful”.
“Round-by-round, point-for-point mentality. I know other guys that are playing extremely well right now, so I think it’s just important to stay very calm about things.”
Seeded three, the 38-year-old Federer is aiming for a seventh AO title which he last won in 2018 and despite his age, is still very much a player who needs to be beaten and reveals his longevity is as much thanks to hard work and commitment to the sport.
“At the end of the day, old-school work ethic, there is nothing wrong with that,” he said.
“I do believe if you’re in a slump, not feeling well, whatever it may be, knowing how to train hard, when to train hard, with who to train hard, there is nothing wrong when it goes to those things.
“And learning from your mistakes is key, as we remember our losses more than our wins. It’s just important that when you do lose, you know, you really make the most of it, because it’s actually an opportunity.”
The second seed Novak Dokovic didn’t have such a smooth passage into round two, but despite dropping asset never looked as if he out of his depth against German Jan-Lennard Struf as he secured his 7-6(5) 6-2 2-6 6-1 victory.
The Serb is after his eighth title at Melbourne Park and is the clear favourite but he admitted he has focused on recuperation over the past week following his leadership of the Serbian team to the ATP Cup championship.
He said: “I thought I started off well, I was a break up in the first set, he came back. Second set I played really well, then he turned it around. Credit to him for fighting, he’s a very powerful player.”
Eighth seed Matteo Berrettini eased to a 6-3 6-1 6-3 victory over wild card Andrew Harris, while Grigor Dimitrov recovered from a set down to defeat Juan Ignacio Londero.
But 25th seed Borna Coric was a first-round casualty, losing 6-3 6-4 6-4 to American Sam Querrey.