Serena Williams returned to Melbourne Park with a sartorial splash on Tuesday, slaying her German opponent Tatjana Maria 6-0, 6-2 and reminding the world that she was pregnant when she won the title in 2017.
Williams turned up to Rod Laver Arena for the first time since winning the title from her sister Venus two years ago and started where she left off, easily advancing to the second round.
Meanwhile, Australian journeyman Alex Bolt celebrated his first victory at a grand slam tournament after fighting back from a one-set deficit to beat American Jack Sock.
Ranked in the top 10 in 2017, Sock was eliminated by Bolt, who spent much of 2016 working as a fencer. The South Australian’s dominant serving display saw him almost double the American in aces.
Bolt, 26, was handed a wildcard entry by Tennis Australia after a strong 2018 in which his ranking rose to 139. He won the Zhuhai Challenger and qualified for Wimbledon.
His 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-2 victory set up a second-round encounter against French No.29 seed Gilles Simon.
Luckless local Ajla Tomljanovic created her own small but unwanted piece of tennis history as the first Australian to bow out of a grand slam tournament in a super-tiebreaker.
The world No.47 dropped serve only once in her opening-round Australian Open clash against Britain’s Johanna Konta but still found herself on the wrong end of a 7-6 (7-4) 2-6 7-6 (10-7) scoreline in a two hour, 51 minute marathon.
This year is the first time that the Australian Open has opted for first-to-10 points tiebreakers to decide matches, rather than the traditional advantage system.
It means all four majors now use different formats to decide close encounters.
“I don’t mind breakers in general. I just wish there was more consistency with the slams,” said the 25-year-old Tomljanovic.
“I hate losing in genera,l but here it’s even worse. I had a tough first round, she’s a great player and she played a high level throughout the whole match.”
There were no such worries for the former world No.1 Williams, who shrugged off the 32-degree heat wearing fishnet stockings underneath her high-necked playsuit.
The outfit is similar to one sold on Nike’s site in dress form for $120.
Last August, Williams was banned from wearing a black catsuit at the French Open, with the president of the French Tennis Federation saying the outfit didn’t “respect the game and the place”.
The short suit attracted fast attention on Twitter, with one fan pointing out Williams last wore a tennis romper 17 years ago.
Williams is vying for an historic 24th grand slam singles crown and after her opening match showed due respect for her opponent Maria, who is also her neighbour.
“Our daughters play together,” Williams said. “I wish we could have played each other later in the tournament.
The last time I was here, I was actually pregnant and playing at the same time, which is insane. It was literally the best win of my career.
“So it’s kind of weird walking back on court by myself this time.”
Williams will resume on Thursday against Chinese wildcard Peng Shuai or Canadian Eugenie Bouchard as she continues her chase for an eighth Open crown. This would draw the American level with Margaret Court with 24 major singles titles.
Williams conceded only five points in racing through the first set, before Maria saved face by finally getting on the board after dropping the opening nine games.
But victory was inevitable for Williams, who remained undefeated this summer after three straight-sets wins at the Hopman Cup in Perth.
Earlier, Karolina Pliskova also continued her unbeaten start to 2019 with a 6-3 6-2 victory over fellow Czech Karolina Muchova.
Pliskova pulled out of last week’s Sydney International after winning her season-opening event in Brisbane and reaped the rewards with a polished start to her Open campaign.
In addition to five aces, Pliskova clubbed 21 winners to book a meeting on Thursday with American Madison Brengle or Japanese qualifier Misaki Doi.
“I was hitting great even in the warm up. I think it’s a good start,” said the 2016 US Open runner-up and former Melbourne Park junior girls’ champion after claiming her sixth win of the year in Australia.
“I feel happy here. I don’t know why. I always love playing here.”
Another former Flushing Meadows finalist also progressed on Tuesday, with American 17th seed Madison Keys taking out young Australian wildcard Destanee Aiava 6-2 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena.
It was Keys’ first match of 2019.
“I was having issues with my knee towards the end of last year and I ran out of time (to play any lead-up tournaments),” she said.
“Mostly I’m just happy that I did most things pretty well.”
Keys will play Russian Anastasia Potapova for a place in the third round.
Mens’ draw: No.8 seed advances
Japanese No.8 seed Kei Nishikori has come back from two sets down to book a spot in the second round of the Australian Open after his Polish opponent withdrew with severe cramping.
After starting slowly, the super-fit Nishikori bounced back hard and was leading 3-6 6-7 (6-8) 6-0 6-2 3-0 when wilting qualifier Kamil Majchrzak informed the chair umpire he was unable to continue.
The pair had been on court for two hours and 48 minutes on another hot day in Melbourne when Majchrzak pulled the pin.
The world No.176 was making his grand slam singles debut.
Nishikori, the 2014 US Open finalist, advanced to a second-round showdown against towering Croatian Ivo Karlovic, a 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (-5) winner over Pole Hubert Hurkacz.
Nishikori has reached the fourth round or better at the Australian Open in each of the previous six years.
Russian No.15 seed Daniil Medvedev, who lost the Brisbane International final to Nishikori earlier this month, thumped South African qualifier Lloyd Harris 6-1 6-2 6-1.
Medvedev will play Ryan Harrison for a spot in the third round after the American eased past Czech Jiri Vesely 6-0 7-5 6-3.
Croatian 11th seed Borna Coric breezed past Belgian Steve Darcis 6-1 6-4 6-4 to seal a date with Hungarian Marton Fucsovics.
Italian 12th seed Fabio Fognini progressed when Spaniard Jaume Munar quit while trailing 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (9-7) 3-1.
Fognini faces unseeded Argentine Leonardo Mayer next.