Roger Federer’s quest for a seventh Australian Open crown began under cloudy skies, and ended under the Rod Laver Arena roof, with one constant: icy-cool domination.
It was a brutal come-down-to-earth for American Steve Johnson, who only last week celebrated victory at the Bendigo Challenger, and was fronting up against a man without a match against his name since November.
Unfortunately for his sake, that man is a 20-time grand slam champion, and he appeared as fresh as a newly-opened can of tennis balls.
Federer’s trademark clean play off the ground and biting chipped backhands to transition to the net proved overwhelming, with a neat diving backhand volley winner helping to gift the third seed the first set.
From there, the one-way traffic turned into absolute cruise control, as Federer maintained his vintage play off the ground.
Vintage from Federer – on this form, that may not be the last time we see shots like that! 😮
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) January 20, 2020
After an hour and 21 minutes of precision, including 81 per cent of first serves in, Federer sealed a comprehensive 6-3 6-2 6-2 victory.
Of his extended off-season, Federer said: “You know, I trained really hard, needed some vacation too and toured South America towards the end of the season, and I trained really hard like I used to. It sets you up really nicely for the season.”
Osaka kicks off her title defence in powerful style
Defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka overcame a sluggish opening few games — and a wayward net strap — to start her Melbourne Park title defence on the right foot.
Kicking off the action on Rod Laver Arena, the world no. 3 overcame an early unforced error-prone stint, and her powerful shots appeared dialled in late to notch an opening 6-2 6-4 victory.
The defending champion struggled to break away in the opening four games, trading service holds with unseeded Czech Marie Bouzkova before securing her first service break on her third opportunity.
From there, the first set was smooth sailing for Osaka, reeling off four consecutive games against the Toronto semi-finalist to close out the first set 6-2.
With momentum behind her, the Japanese superstar appeared set to runaway with the match — before her own power briefly halted her in her tracks.
Serving at 0-1 in the second set, Osaka threw down one of her trademark service bombs that careered into the net strap, snapping it free from its anchor and forcing a short delay, as ground staff hastily worked to fix it.
When your serve is so powerful, you break the net 🧐
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 20, 2020
Resuming after the break, Osaka struggled to regain the upper hand, as Bouzkova threatened to take the match to a decider.
But showing the class that has steered the 22-year-old to two grand slam titles, her brutal groundstrokes found their range and guided her to a comfortable opening victory.
“I’m really glad I was able to finish it in two. You probably didn’t come for me, but thanks for filling up the stadium,” Osaka told the crowd post-match, with typical self-deprecating wit.
Serena starts strong, and aces bushfire relief
Sometimes one to take a few matches to truly fire up in the majors, 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams rushed out of the blocks with devastating intent, delivering a first set bagel to 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova in 19 minutes.
The plucky Russian teenager began finding luck with some audacious shotmaking in the second set, stretching out rallies and eventually breaking the American eight seed in the third game.
But perhaps feeling greater freedom since breaking her post-maternity hoodoo in Auckland, Williams reprised her role as match dictator, blasting 14 winners to recover the deficit, and suitably, close out the match with an ace.
“It was amazing, I hadn’t been able to win as a mom, so it was nice to finally be able to win a tournament with a two-year-old,” Williams said post-match.
“I’ve been pretty close and it was pretty special for me and [daughter Olympia]. Sadly, she just cares about play-do and that’s it, I try to tell her I’m somebody. I’m just known around town as Olympia’s mom.”
Turning her attention to Australia’s unprecedented bushfire disaster, Williams said she was compelled to donate her entire Auckland winner’s cheque to relief as her friends were directly affected by the crisis.
“[Australia’s] a special place in my heart. For me as a player, it’s devastating as I literally know people who’ve been affected. It’s such a disaster and it was important for me to make statements like that and to continue supporting in any way I can,” Williams said.
Australian contingent fails to fire
Making his Australian Open debut, Melbourne boy Andrew Harris found himself instantly on the back foot against thundering Italian Matteo Berrettini.
Harris, who won two grand slam junior doubles titles before making a name for himself in the US college system, showed flashes of brilliance — namely, a stretched backhand passing shot at 5-3 in the opening set that elicited rapturous applause from the Melbourne Arena faithful.
However, the eighth seed’s devastating combination of fiercely-struck groundstrokes and willingness to approach the net at first opportunity proved insurmountable for the Australian, with Berrettini closing out the match 6-3 6-1 6-3.
Elsewhere, journeyman John-Patrick Smith found stiff competition in Wimbledon quarter-finalist Guido Pella. The Argentine snapped a three-match losing streak in Melbourne, overcoming the local hope 6-3 7-5 6-4 in a tick over two hours.
And Townsville’s Lizette Cabrera failed to capitalise on leads in both sets of her encounter with American qualifier Ann Li.
Despite saving four match points in a seesawing second set tiebreak — including a swinging forehand volley winner that hugged within inches of the sideline — Cabrera succumbed 7-6(4) 7-6(10).
The seeds start falling
Figuring as the day’s biggest upset, young Canadian hope Denis Shapovalov was the victim of his own demise, spraying 62 unforced errors in his loss to Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 6-3 6-7(7) 6-1 7-6(3).
Borna Coric continued his horror form on the courts of Melbourne Park, with this year’s first-round loss to big-serving American Sam Querrey his fifth in six years.
And in the women’s draw, 32nd seed Barbora Strycova was felled by former French Open quarterfinalist Sorana Cirstea 6-2 7-6(5).
He said what?
The aforementioned Shapovalov was hardly pleased with chair umpire Renaud Lichtenstein’s decision to award him a code violation for tossing his racquet after a crushing loss in the third set to Fucsovics.
A day after Novak Djokovic suggested the next generation’s biggest shortcoming was their “mental and emotional maturity”, the Canadian 20-year-old blew an almighty gasket, suggesting to the umpire: “I can do whatever I want with it, it’s my racquet. I’m not breaking any rules.”
Fucsovics grabs the third set by the score of 6-1 and now leads by two sets to one against Denis Shapovalov.
Earlier in the set, Shapovalov got quite frustrated after receiving a code violation and started a vocal argument with Renaud Lichtenstein. #AusOpen
— Alex | Tennis 🎾 (@Alex_Boroch) January 20, 2020
Looking ahead — tonight’s must-watch matches
Women’s singles: Ashleigh Barty (AUS)  vs Lesia Tsurenko (UKR)
All eyes will be firmly affixed to Rod Laver Arena as hometown hero Barty seeks to break Australian women’s drought in Melbourne that stretches back to Chris O’Neill’s triumph in 1978. The World No. 1 gets her campaign underway with renewed confidence, shaking off rust from an early Brisbane exit with a maiden title at the Adelaide International.
Men’s singles: Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE)  vs Salvatore Caruso (ITA)
The fast-rising Greek sensation became a staunch Melbourne fan favourite following his giant-killing semi-final run at last year’s tournament, where he outlasted Roger Federer in a gruelling fourth round encounter. Rising to World No.6 following victory at the ATP Finals, Tsitsipas’ flowing all-court game and sometimes-ferocious temper is always perfect fodder for highlights reels.