Ominous Djokovic resumes bid for ninth Australian Open crown

Melbourne (AFP) –


Novak Djokovic will look to continue his Melbourne Park "love affair" and march towards a record-extending ninth title as the Australian Open enters the second round Wednesday.

Serena Williams carries on her quest to equal Margaret Court's all-time mark of 24 Grand Slams, while US Open champion Naomi Osaka will headline the evening session seeking her second Australian Open title in three years.

Djokovic showed why he is the greatest Australian Open champion in history with a 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 demolition of France's Jeremy Chardy in round one on Monday, when the first Grand Slam of the year kicked off three weeks late because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It is an ongoing love affair between me and this court, the Rod Laver Arena. Hopefully I can have many great matches," said Djokovic after his opening win.

The Serb world number one faces a potentially tricky test against lightning-quick American Frances Tiafoe, 22, who reached the quarter-finals two years ago before falling to Rafael Nadal.

Williams, 39, has looked at ease in Melbourne and the American 10th seed faces 99th-ranked Nina Stojanovic for a place in the last 32, four years after winning her 23rd Grand Slam title at the venue.

Japanese superstar Osaka, the champion in 2019, breezed through her opening match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in 68 minutes, despite saying she had endured a sleepless night.

The 23-year-old's form does not augur well for France's Caroline Garcia, who reached a career-high world number four in September 2018 but has been on a steady slide down the rankings and is unseeded this year.

- Racquet-smasher -

Germany's volatile US Open finalist Alexander Zverev will close out the night session against America's Maxime Cressy.

The fifth seed is known for a short fuse and it showed on Monday as he smashed a racquet during a 6-7 (8/10), 7-6 (7/5), 6-3, 6-2 win against another Marcos Giron.

The unpredictable Nick Kyrgios could also provide fireworks out on his favourite John Cain Arena against France's 29th seed Ugo Humbert.

The Australian swept past Portugal's Frederico Ferreira Silva in straight sets in the first round in a performance he termed "pretty average", despite winning one point with a trademark tweener.

Before all that, the 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu will open proceedings on Rod Laver Arena, in only her second match in 15 months because of injury, against Taiwan's unorthodox Hsieh Su-wei.

The Canadian eighth seed fought back tears after making a successful comeback in a tough three-setter against Romania's Mihaela Buzarnescu on Monday.

Austrian third seed and US Open champion Dominic Thiem, last year's runner-up to Djokovic, is the highlight in the afternoon on Margaret Court Arena against Germany's 70th-ranked Dominik Koepfer.

Women's second seed Simona Halep appeared to have overcome a lower back injury in 6-2, 6-1 romp past Australian wildcard Lizette Cabrera on Monday.

"I feel good, my body is fit," said the Romanian, who now faces another Australian, Ajla Tomljanovic, in the night session on Margaret Court Arena.