TENNIS NEWS - Roger Federer swatted aside Steve Johnson to race into the Australian Open second round on Monday as he kickstarted his bid for a 21st Grand Slam title in immaculate style.
The ageless Swiss great, 38, said ahead of the tournament that he had low expectations at the year's opening Grand Slam after missing the warm-up ATP Cup to spend more time with his family.
It left him short of match practice, but it didn't show on Rod Laver Arena against the American in his 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 demolition.
"I felt really good. I trained really hard, like I always do, and happy I did not have any (injury) setbacks (in the off-season)," said Federer.
"I am happy, I played well in practice and happy it showed on the court as well."
The crowd favourite knew he needed to get out of the blocks fast against the world number 75 and that's what he did, racing to a 4-1 lead in the opening set before a 10-minute interruption for the roof to be shut due to rain.
Federer returned and wrapped up the set in just 27 minutes.
Johnson, known for his big forehand and slice backhand, again gave away service breaks early in the next two sets and there was no way back against a man who delivered some jaw-dropping returns and forehands.
He will next play either French qualifier Quentin Halys or Serbian Filip Krajinovic.
Seeded three, Federer is gunning for not only a 21st Slam title but his seventh in Australia, having most recently tasted success at Melbourne Park in 2018.
Despite his age, the Swiss star remains a competitive force and won four singles titles last year.
But he failed to add another Grand Slam with his closest call coming in the Wimbledon final, where he lost a five-set epic to Novak Djokovic.
In contrast to his 2019 Major drought, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal won two apiece, with the Spaniard moving within one Slam title of Federer's record 20.
Djokovic survives scare in tough opener
Defending champion Novak Djokovic dropped his first set in the opening round of the Australian Open since 2006 before grinding down Jan-Lennard Struff to keep his quest for a record eighth title on track.
The 16-time Major winner finally got the job done 7-6 (7/5), 6-2, 2-6, 6-1 on Rod Laver Arena for his 900th career win to make the second round at Melbourne Park for a 14th consecutive year.
"Credit to him for fighting, he's a very powerful player," said Djokovic, who is seeking to become only the third man to win eight or more titles at the same Grand Slam after Rafael Nadal (12 at Roland Garros) and Roger Federer (eight at Wimbledon).
"I started well, there was a close tiebreak and in the second set I played well, but he turned it around.
"Obviously when you are on the court, especially in my position I am expected to win most of my matches.
"There is a lot of pressure and a lot of different emotions involved. I definitely try to remind myself to stay present and really enjoy."
The last time he dropped a set at the first hurdle in Melbourne was 2006 before going on a streak of 41 straight sets during round one matches until Struff crashed the party.
The second seed came into the tournament after leading Serbia to the ATP Cup title in Sydney, winning all six of his singles matches.
But he didn't have it all his own way against the world number 37.
He ground through a series of long rallies before breaking his opponent in the fifth game of the opening set and seemed to be cruising.
But the German saved a set point in the eighth and then broke Djokovic in the ninth to trail 4-5, with the match back on serve and the crowd on their feet.
The comeback restored gallant Struff's confidence and the set went to a tie-break, where the Serb dug deep when it mattered most to come out on top.
He broke Struff in his opening game of the second set and then put his foot on the gas, with the gulf in class widening as normal order was restored.
But it didn't last long with the plucky German refusing to give up and the Serbian making uncharacteristic errors in a horror third set.
Djokovic was broken to love to go 2-0 down and while he broke back for 2-3, Struff broke twice more with a Djokovic double fault sending the match into a fourth set.
The world No 2 didn't make any more mistakes, keeping his focus to get over the finish line.
Djokovic had another phenomenal season last year, winning not only in Australia but his fifth Wimbledon title, while collecting five tournament victories to take his career tally to 77.
Shapovalov sent packing
Feisty Canadian Denis Shapovalov was sent packing in the first round on Monday after an epic row with the umpire for throwing his racquet in frustration.
The world number 13 was beaten 6-3, 7-6 (9/7), 6-1, 7-6 (7/3) by Hungarian Marton Fucsovics in a big upset on day one of the first Grand Slam of the year.
Considered one of the new generation who could challenge the Big Three of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, the 20-year-old lost the plot after being crushed in the third set.
The umpire warned him for throwing down his racquet and it didn't go down well with the temperamental Canadian.
"I'm not breaking any rules," he shouted at the official. "It's my racquet I can do whatever the hell I want with it."
"What are you talking about, I didn't break it," he added.
"If I broke it, give me a code, 100 percent. I didn't break my racquet. It was a terrible call, do your job."
Shapovalov, who crashed out of the Auckland Classic last week to a qualifier, never really got going with his emotions getting the better of him.
It was a setback for the Canadian, who enjoyed a strong finish to a topsy-turvy 2019 season which featured his maiden ATP title in Stockholm. He also made the Paris Masters final, losing to Djokovic.
World number 67 Fucsovics, who was bundled out in the second round at Melbourne Park last year, said he played some of his best tennis.
"I was hitting the ball really well, I like it here. I played some of my best tennis today. Everything was working," he said.
Tsitsipas 'almost perfect' en route to victory
World No 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas played a flawless first set as he crushed Salvatore Caruso 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 to launch his bid to better last year's semifinal appearance at the Australian Open.
Expectations are high for the 21-year-old, who stunned Roger Federer in 2019 en route to the final four, announcing himself as a force to be reckoned with.
He went on to win titles in Marseille and Estoril before making a big breakthrough by claiming the season-ending ATP Finals in London – the youngest to do so since Lleyton Hewitt in 2001.
Tsitsipas came into the opening Grand Slam of the year on the back of a mixed build up – losing to Denis Shapovalov and Nick Kyrgios at the ATP Cup, but beating Alexander Zverev.
But Italian world number 95 Caruso posed few problems for Tsitsipas, who enjoyed vocal support in a city that has a large Greek community.
"I tried to stay calm and be aggressive, I was very focused and in the zone," said the sixth seed.
"I was very happy with the first set. It was almost perfect. I can't remember the last time I went 6-0. It was good quality."
The 1.93m (6ft 4in) right-hander broke the Italian's opening service game to quickly take charge, sprinting through the first set in just 22 minutes and conceding just nine points.
Bidding to reach the second round for the first time, Caruso perked up in the second set, showing more backbone to win two games.
But the writing was on the wall and Tsitsipas raced to victory in convincing fashion, yelling "let's go" as he served out the match.
Tsitsipas is bidding to become the youngest Australian Open men's singles champion since Novak Djokovic in 2008, and prove he can be more consistent at Grand Slams.
But apart from his Melbourne run last year, he wasn't a threat at the Majors, losing in the first-round at Wimbledon and the US Open and in the fourth round at Roland Garros.
He said his experience in Melbourne last year still resonated with him.
"I get goosebumps when I think about what I went through and I hope to experience even better this year," he said.
Evans pats stomach after fulfilling comeback win
Dan Evans, urged to "miss a few meals" earlier this month by Britain captain Tim Henman, patted his stomach after completing a brave five-set comeback win over American Mackenzie McDonald to reach the second round.
The 30th seed's fitness was under the spotlight pre-tournament after Henman's light-hearted jibe but Evans had enough in the tank to overhaul McDonald 3-6 4-6 6-1 6-2 6-3 on Court 14 at Melbourne Park.
It was his first win from two sets down and continues a bright start to the season for the Birmingham 29-year-old who starred for Britain during their run to the quarterfinals of the inaugural ATP Cup earlier this month.
"It was just a bit of a joke to the guys in the corner," Evans told reporters of the stomach pat.
"It wasn't that physical of a match to be honest, it was more mental, hanging in there.
"I'm just relieved to have come through."
Evans has come a long way since his last trip to Melbourne Park a year ago, when he was ranked in the high 100s and had to grind through qualifiers as he worked his way back from a year-long ban for testing positive for cocaine in 2017.
With former world number Andy Murray having to withdraw due to injury, Evans, seeded for the first time at a Grand Slam, bears a bigger weight of expectation from fans in Britain.
Not that he feels particularly special.
"I was basically playing on the rail-track, wasn't I?" he said of his court, which is near a tram stop and some rail tracks.
"I go back to the hotel at night feeling exactly the same... We all know who the British No 1, he's Andy Murray.
"He's the best player at the minute even if he's injured and that's how it'll be, that's how I'll think of it anyway."
Henman had suggested Evans could push for a top 20 ranking if he watched his diet.
"I’ve got strong legs and a good set of lungs. Everyone can be in better shape, that’s just normal isn’t it?" added Evans.
"Maybe after this tournament, maybe (I can) take that conversation into a room and see if he has a point or not. But we’ll see.
"I can’t do anything about it now."