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Tennis | Australian Open

Djokovic fires early warning as Hewitt bows out



Novak Djokovic made a commanding start to his quest for a hat-trick of Australian Open titles Monday, as local hero Lleyton Hewitt became the first high-profile casualty.

The Serbian world No 1 was in imperious form as he tossed aside Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 in just 1hr 42min on Rod Laver Arena to waltz into the second round of the year's first Grand Slam event.

Djokovic is bidding to become the first player in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian Opens, and he brushed aside the 60th-ranked Mathieu for his 15th straight match win in Melbourne.

"It was a good performance for a first round," he said. "It's expected in the first match you're still not 100 percent on the court.

"You're trying to, but it's going to get better with matches that I play. Hopefully I can continue on with the same rhythm."

The top seed sent out a clear message that he has the appetite to go after his fourth Australian crown, and his sixth major title overall, at the venue where he broke through for his first Grand Slam win in 2008.

But Hewitt, unseeded but playing in his record 17th consecutive home Open, was knocked out by Serbian eighth seed Janko Tipsarevic, 7-6 (7/4), 7-5, 6-3 over three hours of high-class tennis.

"Against quality players, you've got to take your chances, but to his credit Janko raised his level and played some great points," Hewitt said.

Elsewhere, Spanish fourth seed David Ferrer eased past Belgian Olivier Rochus, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in 1hr 50min and Czech two-time quarterfinalist Tomas Berdych accounted for American Michael Russell 6-3, 7-5, 6-3.

Djokovic did not drop serve and broke the Frenchman's service four times in a masterful performance ahead of his next round encounter with American Ryan Harrison.

Spanish 10th seed Nicolas Almagro needed five sets and 3hr 10min to douse American qualifier Steve Johnson, but Argentine 11th seed Juan Monaco stumbled out in straight sets to Russian Andrey Kuznetsov.

Japan's Kei Nishikori eased doubts over a knee injury as he beat Romania's Victor Hanescu in four sets.

A left knee injury forced the 16th seed out of this month's Brisbane International and Kooyong Classic tournaments, but he showed little discomfort in surging home 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 against the 63rd-ranked Hanescu.

Nishikori, 23, Asia's big hope in the men's draw, recovered from dropping the opening set in a tiebreaker to take the match in 2hr 39min and will face Argentina's Carlos Berlocq in the next round.

"It feels good. I think it's no problem. I played four sets, it's fine and it should be OK," Nishikori said of his knee tendinitis.

"I had an echo (scan) a couple of days ago. I saw the picture and it showed nothing. It's good."

Nishikori reached the quarterfinals at last year's Australian Open, the best-ever Grand Slam performance by a Japanese man.

French 32nd seed Julien Benneteau, Austrian seed Jurgen Meltzer, Swiss 15th seed Stanislas Wawrinka and Spaniard Fernando Verdasco were other opening day winners.

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