Australian Open Day One

For years I believed Wimbledon to be my favourite of the majors – it is, after all the quintessential tennis event and the one most coveted by players and respected by history.

But all too often it is marred by the British public. The majority of us Brits know little of the game or its players resulting in dumbed-down BBC coverage focusing on the lacklustre home-grown efforts. And let’s not mention the excruciating Murray Mania!

The Australian Open is the purest of the Slams – Roland Garros has it’s infamously ruthless crowds and the unique challenge of the clay, Flushing Meadows is glitzy and impersonal.

The heat-waves aside, the talk is always about the tennis at Melbourne Park and the fans are appreciative, highly knowledgeable and passionate – both of their fellow countrymen and any underdog willing to show some fight.

The action itself always takes centre stage – and for the last decade, it is here where the best matches of the year usually occur.

The 2010 event has already shunned the rulebook however with a cold and rainy first day resulting in a Wimbles-esque jumbled schedule. No talk of the crippling heat then, but the tennis remained true to form.

On a typically dramatic opening Monday the story of the day still goes to the battle fo the Maria’s with Sharapova the surprise loser.

Good friend and fellow pin-up Maria Kirilenko has had spells in the top 20 and once looked to be a frequent troubler of the rankings as well as teenagers walls. A journeywoman status is more appropriate of late however and few expected the diminutive Russian to topple Masha.

Sharapova still isn’t firing on all of her loud cylinders however – and an error strewn performance led to a three set defeat.

Some are saying that this is the end for the screamer, far from it. Instead it looks like a slower, more gradual road to the top, and one made all the harder by the return of a certain duo from Belgium.

Both Kim and Justine were in action today and both posted comfortable wins with the latter looking impressively comfortable against the stern test of compatriot Kirsten Flipkens. Form player Elena Dementieva now faces the unseeded Henin in what is undoubtedly the pick of the second round matches.

Elsewhere it was business as usual with Dinara Safina, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Flavia Pennetta all advancing whilst two women who caused so much hullabaloo last year fared somewhat differently.

2009’S Williams’ killer Maria Martinez Sanchez enjoyed a double bagel over Russia’s Evgeniya Rodina but Australia’s darling-once-again Jelena Dokic failed to repeat her heroics of last year, bowing out 6-1, 7-5 to Alisa Kleybanova also of Russia.

It was at times a real challenge to watch the hapless Dokic fight with her personal demons and far-from match ready form to try and conquer her big hitting 4th round victim of 2009.

Kleybanova who judging by the way she plays should be renamed Clubanova simply had to much power and impressive brick wall defence. Jelena was superb one minute and woeful the next.

She deserves to be back in the higher echelons – but after failing to defend those QF points here, will go down in the rankings before she can rise.

The men’s action was more muted, if no less impressive. Andy’s Roddick and Murray both looked more than solid in their easy first round wins whilst Fernando Gonzalez, Ivan Ljubicic and veteran Florian Mayer all advanced.

Juan Martin Del Potro muscled past the equally formidable Michael Russell of the USA and Ivo Karlovic yet again found himself in a five setter – seeing off Radek Stepanek 5-4 in the decider.

Finally Rafa Nadal looked in trouble early on against the useful Aussie Peter Luczak recovering from 3-5 in the opening set before prevailing 7-6 (7-0), 6-1, 6-4. With a gameplan that will be punished by more illustrious opponents, the defending champion still looks beatable here, but as always it will be an epic test.

A final mention for Britain’s Elena Baltacha who battled past France’s tricky Pauline Parmentier into round two and will now face 30th seed Kateryna Bondarenko.

Seeds and noteworthy players who fell today

Radek Stepanek
Mardy Fish

Maria Sharapova
Jelena Dokic

Thanks to BBC Sport for the pic

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