Rafael Nadal sailed into the second round of the Australian Open on day two before backing "humble" fellow Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz to have a "great career" following his maiden grand slam win.

Nadal cruised to a 6-3 6-4 6-1 victory over Laslo Djere on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday and will face Michael Mmoh in round two.

The Spanish great's compatriot Alcaraz won his first major match at Melbourne Park, seeing off fellow qualifier Botic Van de Zandschulp 6-1 6-4 6-4.

Murcia native Alcaraz has been billed by Nadal's uncle and former coach, Toni Nadal, as his nephew's "natural replacement" and the 20-time grand slam champion says the 17-year-old has all the ingredients to have a great career.

The second seed said: "He's very good. He's very young. He has everything to improve in the future with his age.

"He already is where he is, and he has a lot of great things on his game. I really believe that he will have a great future because he's a good guy, humble, hard worker. He has a lot of positive things."

Daniil Medvedev outclassed Vasek Pospisil 6-2 6-2 6-4, while Stefanos Tsitsipas eased past Gilles Simon 6-1 6-2 6-1, but fellow seed David Goffin lost a five-set marathon with Alexei Popyrin.

 

Nadal happy to 'survive' 

Nadal missed the ATP Cup before starting his quest for a record 21st grand slam title at Melbourne Park due to muscle tightness in his back.

He was simply happy to clear the first hurdle on the second day of the tournament.

"I needed to survive today and that's what I did. I just tried to be focused all the time, tried to get through," he said.

"For me personally, [I'm] happy to be through to the second round. I did I think a good job today. Straight sets, that's what I did."

 

Tennys disgruntled over 'joke' of preparation

American Tennys Sandgren was among over 70 players who were locked down in a hotel for a fortnight before the tournament due to positive COVID-19 test on their flight to Australia.

Sandgren made no secret of his displeasure over the restrictions he was forced to adhere to and let his feelings be known again after the two-time quarter-finalist lost 7-5 6-1 6-1 to Alex de Minaur on John Cain Arena.

He said: "How would you imagine prepping for a hot kind of muggy day, three-out-of-five sets against a player like that, that calibre, when you can't play tennis? You can't go outside? You can't. It's impossible. It's impossible.

"So I played last week's event [the Great Ocean Road Open], which probably wasn't a good idea. It wasn't hot, it was very mild conditions, and I played two hard three-set matches and I've never been more sore in my life after the second round, and I took two days off because I couldn't walk, and then I hit a couple times before today. I mean, it's just kind of a joke of preparation. But yeah. What are you going to do?"

 

Alcaraz escaping social media hype

Big things are expected of teenager Alcaraz and there was more hype over his potential after an impressive first-round win.

Alcaraz just wants to do his own thing and show why the likes of Rafael and Toni Nadal speak so highly of him.

"So I try to be focus on me, not on the social media, to play my game, play in front of my team, to my team, to me, my family," he said.

"I try to, yeah, to be a part of the social media and don't hear the comparison with Rafa. Yeah, I try to do this."

A "calmer" Garbine Muguruza made a fine start at the Australian Open, while defending champion Sofia Kenin was left annoyed despite her victory.

A finalist at the Yarra Valley Classic last week, Muguruza's good form in Melbourne continued with a rampant 6-4 6-0 victory over Margarita Gasparyan in the first round on Tuesday.

Muguruza was runner-up at Melbourne Park last year, with the two-time grand slam winner looking for her first major success since 2017.

The Spanish star, who will face Ludmilla Samsonova in the second round, said she was reaping the benefits of a changed approach.

"I was for sure working very hard, and frustrated that the results weren't there for quite a few months. Sometimes you work hard, you want it so much, that doesn't help you," Muguruza said.

"It's hard to explain, but I felt like for a moment I was working hard, I was putting all the effort out there. The time that I had to go and compete, I wanted it too much. I was getting frustrated too early. At the end I couldn't let the racquet talk.

"I feel like now, after that experience, I managed to stay a little bit calmer and to just go and compete, probably have less expectations. I'm always, like, there and always so pumped. I'm just knowing myself a little bit better now, finding ways to compete and not let that energy and that desire, too much desire, get in the way probably."

It was a relatively good day for the top women's seeds, with Kenin – who conquered Muguruza in last year's final – winning through.

Ash Barty, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova and Belinda Bencic also advanced, while Victoria Azarenka's poor recent record in Melbourne continued.

KENIN ANNOYED DESPITE WIN

Kenin started her title defence with a 7-5 6-4 victory over Australian Maddison Inglis.

But while the American fourth seed mixed 23 winners with 27 unforced errors, Kenin said she felt her nerves as she defends a major crown for the first time.

"I was obviously quite annoyed the whole match. I felt like the first two points I started off well, then wasn't able to close out the first game. Obviously nerves happen," she said.

"She obviously played really well. She's a tricky opponent, tricky player. Yeah, it was quite hard on myself today, quite annoyed, as you said."

Kenin's next clash is a tough encounter against Kaia Kanepi, who brushed past Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 6-1.

BARTY, SVITOLINA AND PLISKOVA AMONG WINNERS

Barty made a spectacular start with a 6-0 6-0 thrashing of Danka Kovinic.

The world number one won the first 16 points and ended up losing just 10 for the match in an impressive start.

A two-time quarter-finalist at the Australian Open, Svitolina was tested but overcame Marie Bouzkova 6-3 7-6 (7-5) on Rod Laver Arena.

A huge challenge awaits Svitolina, who will next face Coco Gauff after the 16-year-old American beat Jil Teichmann 6-3 6-2.

Czech sixth seed Pliskova made quick work of Jasmine Paolini, wrapping up a 6-0 6-2 victory in just 47 minutes.

Bencic and Anett Kontaveit were among the other seeded winners.

NO EXCUSES FOR AZARENKA

A two-time Australian Open champion, Azarenka suffered a surprise 7-5 6-4 loss to Jessica Pegula in the first round.

The Belarusian's last win at the event came in 2016, having made first-round exits in 2019 and 2021 and missed the tournament in 2017, 2018 and 2020.

Azarenka was among the players forced to quarantine ahead of the major and while she said it played a part in her exit, she offered no excuses.

"Of course, it has impacted. Somebody who's coming out of hard quarantine and maybe has been able to adjust well, they'll go, 'Oh, maybe it hasn't impacted'. Somebody who lost early will say, 'Yeah, of course, it's impacted'. It would be hard to say," she said.

"Was that the best preparation for me? No. But try to sit here and find an excuse because of quarantine and this is just something that, as I said, it is what it is.

"I am disappointed that I wasn't able to perform that I knew I could. That's a bit hard to accept today because I knew I can play better, a lot better. At the same time I feel that I've tried everything I can to be able to be prepared, but unfortunately that hasn't worked out for me."

Greek 20th seed Maria Sakkari also bowed out after a loss to Kristina Mladenovic, while British 13th seed Johanna Konta retired injured while leading Kaja Juvan 6-4 0-2.

Ash Barty made an impressive start to the Australian Open, thrashing Danka Kovinic in the first round on Tuesday.

Barty, who last year became the first Australian woman to reach the semi-finals of the tournament since Wendy Turnbull in 1984, hammered Kovinic 6-0 6-0 on Rod Laver Arena.

Winner of last week's Yarra Valley Classic, Barty won the first 16 points against Kovinic and never looked back.

The world number one wrapped up victory in just 44 minutes, finishing the contest having lost only 10 points.

Kovinic's unforced errors piled up early – the Montenegrin made 14 in the first set – as 2019 French Open champion Barty quickly took control and the opener.

There was a very brief test for Barty to begin the second set, but the Australian was untroubled as Kovinic had no answers.

Barty will meet either Daria Gavrilova or Sara Sorribes Tormo in the second round.

 

Data Slam: Barty blitz sets up win
Barty made an incredible start, racing into a 4-0 lead without dropping a point. Her hopes of a golden set were ended when she sent a backhand long, but the start put her in immediate control.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Barty – 10/5
Kovinic – 3/28

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Barty – 5/0
Kovinic – 2/2

BREAK POINTS WON
Barty – 6/8
Kovinic – 0/0

Rafael Nadal insisted his back was "not perfect" but he is hoping the injury improves after easing through the Australian Open first round.

Playing his first competitive match since last year's ATP Finals, Nadal cruised past Laslo Djere 6-3 6-4 6-1 on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday.

As he eyes a record 21st grand slam title, the Spanish star entered the year's first major under an injury cloud.

Despite his comprehensive first-round victory, Nadal, 34, said his back was still troubling him.

"My back is not perfect, as I said a couple of days ago. Every day that I'm able to go through, probably there are more chances to get better. That's the thing now," he told a news conference.

"There is always a chance to improve, and that's why I'm here playing and fighting to try to get better and then give myself a chance. Today it's not great.

"I needed to change a little bit the motion of my serve. That's what I tried to survive that condition today. Tomorrow a day off.  After tomorrow, another match. I need to go day to day and just try to stay positive.

"Of course every day that I am trying to stay here longer is a day with a chance to get better finally, so that's what I am trying. Trying to do all the things possible to be ready for compete, for what I came here."

Nadal won 40 of 48 points on first serve against Djere, while he mixed 19 winners with 24 unforced errors.

The world number two is bidding to become the first man in the Open Era to win every grand slam at least twice as he aims to add to his 2009 Australian Open title.

"I was able to win in straight sets. It's always a positive start for me," Nadal said.

"Always difficult after not playing for a while, playing an official match in a while. A good start. Happy.

Nadal will face either Viktor Troicki or Michael Mmoh in the second round.

Rafael Nadal opened his bid for a record 21st grand slam title with a straight-sets win over Laslo Djere at the Australian Open on Tuesday.

World number two Nadal, level with the absent Roger Federer for the most men's slams in history, defeated Djere 6-3 6-4 6-1 in the opening round in Melbourne.

Nadal needed less than two hours to earn a meeting with either Viktor Troicki or Michael Mmoh as he appeared to dismiss concerns regarding his fitness at Melbourne Park.

All eyes were on Nadal due to a back problem, which left the star unable to compete for Spain in last week's ATP Cup.

But Nadal looked comfortable as Rod Laver Arena was bathed in sunshine, racing out to a commanding 5-1 lead behind a double-break advantage.

Djere – whose racquet went flying out of his hand and into the court as he served in the fourth game – looked overawed, however once he settled, the Serb reeled off seven successive points to unsettle Nadal.

Nadal, though, survived the fightback to close out the first set from a 0-30 deficit, despite his unforced-error count blowing out to 13 – one more than Djere.

Djere showed glimpses as he continued to make things difficult for Nadal, who had only lost twice previously in the first round of a slam – Steve Darcis (2013 Wimbledon) and Fernando Verdasco (2016 Australian Open).

But Nadal had all the answers, reducing his unforced-error count to nine and raising his winners to eight to claim a commanding two-sets-to-love lead.

Nadal boasted an intimidating record when winning the opening two sets of a slam match – 216-1, with his only loss coming to Fabio Fognini at the 2015 US Open – and he never looked back against Djere.

 

Data Slam: Nadal keeps strong record
Nadal kept a record intact, having never lost an Australian Open match to a player ranked as low as number 56 Djere.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Nadal – 19/24
Djere – 20/36

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Nadal – 5/1
Djere – 4/5

BREAK POINTS WON
Nadal – 6/11
Djere – 1/5

World number one Novak Djokovic is in favour of technology replacing linespeople across the ATP Tour amid the absence of judges at the Australian Open.

This year's Australian Open is being held without line judges as a response to coronavirus restrictions at Melbourne Park, where "Hawk-Eye Live" technology is being used on every court. 

It is the first grand slam to replace all linespeople with technology as the tournament seeks to limit the number of people on court amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Djokovic was sensationally disqualified in the fourth round of last year's US Open for inadvertently hitting a ball at a line judge during his clash with Pablo Carreno Busta in New York.

Asked about the situation at the Australian Open, defending champion and eight-time winner Djokovic told reporters: "I think back [at the] US Open last year, someone asked me whether I would support the idea of introducing this kind of line call technology at every tournament.

"Obviously providing that the tournament is able to afford financially that kind of investment, because obviously it is an investment.

"I said that I support that, because I feel, yes, I understand that there is a tradition and history and the way we kind of got used to the line umpires being there, and I think it's nice that there is a lot of people and also volunteers with these line umpires that love tennis and love to have an opportunity to be out on the court and be close to the players and be part of a great event.

"But I think when you draw a line that generally I actually am in favour of technology. I think it's proven to be very accurate in this particular instance.  I don't see a reason why we need the line umpires, to be honest, if we have technology like this. I would of course keep the ball kids, but line calls I'm in favour of this technology."

Djokovic was speaking after beginning his quest for a ninth Australian Open title with a 6-3 6-1 6-2 win over Jeremy Chardy on Monday.

The 17-time grand slam champion is trying to close the gap on 20-time major winners Roger Federer - who is absent from this year's event - and Rafael Nadal.

"I respect all of my opponents' records. I think especially Roger and Rafa, what they have achieved over the years. They are legends of our sport, and I admire them a lot," Djokovic said. "They have positively affected my game and my growth, my development and all my success. Wouldn't be what it is if these two guys were not there.

"I have had tremendous rivalries with these two guys and we still keep on going. But I don't want any of their success, if you know what I mean. I'm not jealous of their success or anything like that. I try to build my own authentic career and my own success, and I stick to that."

Djokovic added: "I am always motivated and inspired to achieve big goals and break records. I would lie if I say that's not, you know, something that I'm thinking about or that my attention is not going that way.

"I have been very transparent about the fact that one of the biggest goals is to try to reach the number one of all time weeks' record, and I'm getting closer and closer to that one. That's a kind of a lifetime achievement for me. 

"Grand slams, as well. Of course the Masters events, I think the 1000 events over the years I have managed to be very consistent and win a lot of titles there. Those are the biggest events that we have on the four other than grand slams.  The head-to-head records with top guys as well, to name a few. I try to be a good student of the game. 

"I'm just very fortunate to be in this situation and position that I'm in at the moment, so I try to keep on going and obviously setting up new goals for myself, because I feel like other than passion and love that I have for the game and the biggest reason why I still play it is exactly that pure emotion that I have of enjoyment when I'm there and excitement.

"As a professional tennis player, I need to have goals. Over the last 15 years, everything that I have managed to achieve, I don't settle for anything less but the top of the men's game and the biggest trophies.  That's something I always aim for. I work towards that.  And yeah, I'm still lucky to be where I am. Let's see what the future holds."

Naomi Osaka said she was "really nervous" before facing Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova but showed no signs of that as she breezed into the second round of the Australian Open.

Osaka looked dominant on day one of the first grand slam of the year as she welcomed being able to play in front of a crowd at Melbourne Park, taking only 68 minutes to wrap up a 6-1 6-2 victory.

The US Open champion has beaten Pavlyuchenkova three times in a row after losing when they first met in 2017 but was wary of facing the Russian on Rod Laver Arena.

Third seed Osaka said: "I was really nervous coming into this match. I know that I've played her before, and it was really tough. I just wanted to play well.

"The most recent memory I have of playing her was in the Osaka final [that Osaka won 6-2 6-3 in 2019], so it's always really hard to play someone that good in the first round.

"For me, I feel like it might have also helped in a way because I calmed my nerves because I felt like I couldn't afford to be that nervous. But, yeah, it was a tough match."

Serena Williams and Simona Halep stormed into round two, but the 2016 champion Angelique Kerber crashed out with a 6-0 6-4 defeat to world number 63 Bernarda Pera.

Alison Riske and Wang Qiang were the only other seeds to fall, losing to teenager Anastasia Potapova and qualifier Sara Errani respectively, while Bianca Andreescu made a winning comeback.

 

Williams sisters among major winners to make serene progress

Serena Williams did not look at all troubled by a shoulder problem as she started her latest quest to win a record-equalling 24th major singles title with a 6-1 6-1 demolition of Laura Siegemund.

Her older sister, Venus, also advanced in straight sets, beating Kirsten Flipkens 7-5 6-2.

Iga Swiatek, the French Open champion, was too good for Arantxa Rus, winning 6-1 6-3, and Petra Kvitova got past Greet Minnen 6-3 6-4.

Kerber will not be claiming a fourth major crown this month after falling to Croatia-born American Pera.

 

Halep planning to oust another Australian

Two-time major winner Halep was a cut above Lizette Cabrera, winning 6-2 6-1 in 59 minutes, and is looking forward to facing another Australia in the second round in the form of Ajla Tomljanovic. 

"I like to be here, so I like to play Australians," Halep quipped.

"I feel good. My body is fit. It's always difficult to play a big hitter. So, I have to be strong on my legs, focus on myself and give my best.

"I expected a tough match because I played against her before and I know how it's gonna be. She's a good opponent, a good player, and I will focus just on myself like I do every time, but I'm ready for a good battle."

Andreescu back in business

Andreescu put her injury woes behind her, battling past Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2 4-6 6-3 in her first match for 15 months.

The Canadian had not played in a grand slam since winning the US Open in 2019 but was back in business on John Cain Arena.

Eighth seed Andreescu said: "After the match, I sat down with my team a little bit, and I'm like, 'Oh, guys, here we go again, those three-setters' and they just started laughing because they obviously knew what they were getting themselves into.

"But those matches are super good for me in my opinion because it really shows that I can scramble when I really need to, or if there's some pressure I can dig my way through it somehow. When my back is against the wall, not only today, but I've noticed throughout my last couple tournaments in 2019, I've been able to pull through with those."

Novak Djokovic began his quest for a ninth Australian Open title with a convincing straight-sets win over Jeremy Chardy.

The reigning champion and world number one looked in ruthless form as he won 6-3 6-1 6-2 in a little over an hour and a half.

Djokovic, who beat Dominic Thiem in a five-set thriller in the 2020 final, was in an authoritative mood as he took the first two sets in just 56 minutes.

Chardy, whose best grand slam result was reaching the quarter-finals in Melbourne in 2013, offered some valiant resistance in game five of the third set before Djokovic eventually claimed the crucial double break.

The 17-time major winner eased through the final two games in front of a jubilant crowd, finishing with back-to-back aces to set up a second-round match with Frances Tiafoe.

"It makes my heart full to see the crowd in a stadium again," said Djokovic, who has reached at least the semi-final stage in seven of his previous nine majors.

"There's an ongoing love affair between me and the Rod Laver Arena. It's definitely one of the most special courts on the tennis tour around the world and my most successful. Every time I step on this court, I relive those memories."

Djokovic's preparations for the tournament were overshadowed by a row over quarantine conditions for players arriving in Australia, the 33-year-old having lobbied Tennis Australia and state authorities to loosen restrictions for 72 players who had to spend two weeks in their hotel rooms.

There was little about his performance on Monday to suggest any distractions from the task at hand, although he bristled a little in the on-court interview when it was put to him he had been "frustrated" in recent weeks.

"I'm just really glad we're free, playing tennis, back in Australia," he then said. "It's a happy place for us, a happy slam."

 

Data Slam: Djokovic at his clinical best

Djokovic dropped just nine points on serve and hit 41 winners to just 11 unforced errors, sending down nine aces and one double fault.

Such imperious play left Chardy, who had lost all 13 of their previous encounters, with little chance of an upset.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Djokovic – 41/11
Chardy – 20/26

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Djokovic – 9/1
Chardy – 3/3

BREAK POINTS WON
Djokovic – 6/13
Chardy – 0/0

Serena Williams took inspiration from the "unbelievable" Tom Brady as she cruised into the second round of the Australian Open with a "vintage" performance.

Brady made yet more history on Sunday, the most successful player in NFL history winning a seventh Super Bowl as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9.

The incredible Brady, 43, showed age is no barrier, throwing three touchdown passes – two of which were scored by his long-time friend Rob Gronkowski – and completing 21 of 29 throws for 201 yards.

Brady did now allow any interceptions as he picked up the MVP award at Raymond James Stadium.

Williams started her quest for a record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title with a 6-1 6-1 defeat of Laura Siegemund on Monday, then paid tribute to her fellow American Brady.

She said of his exploits: "It's unbelievable. I just was watching as much as I could to see. My only word is it's unbelievable. I kept saying: 'This is unbelievable, this is unreal'.

"You can't say it was the system he was at formerly [the New England Patriots]. It's definitely Tom Brady, he's Tom Brady. He's amazing."

Brady banished everyone from his house in the days leading up to the Super Bowl so he could fully focus on inspiring the Buccaneers to victory, but the 39-year-old Williams said she could never do the same as she would not want to be separated from her daughter, Olympia.

"I would not be able to go function without my three-year-old around," Williams said. "I think I would be in a depression.

"We've been together every day of her life, so... Is that healthy? Not at all! Not even close. But every single day I just want to be around her. It's great. Everyone's different.

"I can totally understand why he would banish because if I had the strength to do it, I would too.

"I could see it's definitely a distraction, especially every year that I've played except for the past few months, I finally am starting to get better at it. The first two and a half years was very difficult. I wasn't strong enough to do the banishment."

Williams, who will face Nina Stojanovic in the second round at Melbourne Park, was delighted with the manner in which she swept Siegemund aside and had no issues with her shoulder after withdrawing from a pre-tournament event citing an injury problem.

"This was a good start. Definitely vintage 'Rena'. It's definitely good. I think I'm pretty good at pacing myself in a grand slam," she said.

"I was happy just to get through it. Wasn't sure how my serve would be after a little bit of that shoulder, but it's feeling good, I'm feeling good. So, it felt really good.

"Last year was very crazy for the world, and to be able to do what I love and to be able to come out and compete and play at a grand slam, after the last 12 months, it makes me appreciate the moment even more."

Serena Williams' bid for a record-equalling 24th grand slam title started with a comprehensive win over Laura Siegemund at the Australian Open.

The American star was dominant on her way to a 6-1 6-1 victory over Siegemund on Rod Laver Arena on Monday.

Williams is aiming to join Margaret Court on a record 24 grand slam singles titles and she had no problems against the German in Melbourne.

She improved to 20-0 in the first round of the Australian Open, showing few signs of a shoulder injury she expects to be dealing with throughout the tournament.

Williams lost just 10 games in her previous two wins over Siegemund, but the seven-time Australian Open winner was broken in the opening game.

But Siegemund produced too many errors from then on, Williams winning in just 56 minutes to set up a clash against Nina Stojanovic.

 

Data Slam: Serena cruises after initial nerves
Williams was broken to 15 in the opening game when Siegemund produced a forehand return winner. However, she steadied, reeling off the next 10 games on her way to a comfortable win.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Williams – 16/15
Siegemund – 4/20

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Williams – 4/1
Siegemund – 0/3

BREAK POINTS WON
Williams – 6/9
Siegemund – 1/1

Rafael Nadal is "doing everything possible" to play a part in the Australian Open after suffering from back pain for the past two weeks.

The 34-year-old pulled out of Spain's line-up for the ATP Cup earlier this week and was last in competitive action in November's ATP Finals.

Nadal is due to face Laslo Djere in the first round on Tuesday as he seeks a second Australian Open title, but the Spaniard cannot guarantee he will be able to play the match.

"It's not great, obviously," he said. "It's true that for the last 15 days I have been suffering.

"In the beginning, the muscle was just a little bit tired, but I now feel a little bit more stiff than usual.

"The muscle is still tight, so it is difficult to play with freedom of movement."

But Nadal, who has a history of back injuries, is refusing to withdraw from the tournament.

"I have Monday and then playing Tuesday. I don't think about not playing," he said.

"We are doing everything. My physio is here, the doctors [are] here, everybody is helping me in all possible ways. I hope to be ready, that's all. I know sometimes things change quick."

Nadal is not alone in entering the first grand slam of the year below full strength, with the likes of Serena Williams, Sofia Kenin and Naomi Osaka also battling injury problems.

However, the world number two will not use his niggling back issue as an excuse should he suffer an early exit at Melbourne Park.

"I'm not a big fan of finding excuses," he said. "When things happen, you need to find a way to get through."

Nadal can surpass Roger Federer for all-time majors should he triumph at the Australian Open.

He is also looking to become only the second man after Rod Laver to win each major on more than one occasion in the Open era, but his only previous success at the tournament came 12 years ago.

"I think I had the big chance in 2014. I got injured during the match on the back. It was tough," he said.

"I had another good chance in 2012, another good chance in 2017 with a break up in the fifth. I just didn't win the match. 

"That's all, I can't find another reason. It is true that I missed a couple of Australian Opens for injuries, too."

World number one Novak Djokovic said he does not have "much respect" for outspoken Australian star Nick Kyrgios away from the tennis court.

Kyrgios has been critical of Djokovic in an ongoing feud with the 17-time grand slam champion, who was labelled a "tool" by the former following a list of requests made to Tennis Australia (TA) and the Victorian government for tennis players stuck in hotel quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Former world number 13 Kyrgios was also critical of Djokovic's decision to stage the Adria Tour in Europe last August – in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis – having previously dubbed the Serb star "cringeworthy".

Djokovic rekindled his rivalry with Kyrgios after being asked about the 25-year-old on the eve of the Australian Open.

"I've said this before," Djokovic told reporters on Sunday. "I think he's good for the sport. Obviously he's someone that is different. He goes about his tennis, he goes about his off court things in his own authentic way. 

"I have respect for him. I have respect for everyone else really because everyone has a right and freedom to choose how they want to express themselves, what they want to do. My respect goes to him for the tennis he's playing. I think he's very talented guy. He's got a big game. He has proven that he has a quality to beat any player really in the world in the past.

"Off the court, I don't have much respect for him, to be honest. That's where I'll close it. I really don't have any further comments for him, his own comments for me or anything else he's trying to do."

Djokovic has won the past two Australian Open finals as he eyes a record-extending ninth Melbourne Park crown.

The 33-year-old, who opens his title defence against Jeremy Chardy on Monday, has won the Australian Open every time he has reached the semi-finals.

Djokovic has reached at least the semi-finals in seven of his last nine grand slam tournaments, winning five of them.

No male has won more Australian Open men's singles titles than Djokovic, who said: "It's a love affair. Probably something similar maybe not like Rafa [Nadal] has with the French Open, but I've been feeling more comfortable on the court each year that I've been coming back. 

"The more you win, obviously the more confidence you have and the more pleasant you feel on the court. It just feels right. If you're in the right state of mind, regardless of the surface, you have a better chance to play at your best.

"When I stepped on the court this year for the first time in the practice session, I relived some of the memories from last year, also the other years that I won the tournament here.

"It just gives me great sensation, great feeling, confidence. It feels right. It feels like the place where I should be and where I have historically always been able to perform my best tennis. Hopefully can be another successful year."

Asked if he still feels nerves, Djokovic – who is looking to close the gap on Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer (both 20) for the most slam trophies – added: "Every match, every match. Every single match. I don't want to speak on behalf of the other athletes, but I just feel like it's almost impossible to eliminate that kind of pressure, anticipation, the nerves coming into any match really for an athlete. At least in my case.

"It's just that I managed over the years to train myself, I think with the experience and with also the dedication that I had off the court to the mental preparation, that helped me react better to those kind of emotions. Sometimes I don't manage to overcome the pressures and the stress and nerves. Sometimes I do. It really just depends. Even though I've been blessed to experience a lot of success, especially here in Australia, but also in my career. I still feel that those failures, if you want to call them that way, even though I don't believe in failures, I just believe in opportunities to improve, kind of the lessons to be learned, but in those matches you lose, big matches, that's where you learn the most.

"That's where you're facing the kind of wall mentally. You're upset. You have a lot of different things happening, and you feel like you let yourself down. That's where it's the biggest opportunity for you to really address that and become stronger, more capable. You can get to know yourself a little bit on deeper levels. It still happens to me.

"Every single tournament, regardless of my previous success, of course I do feel that I have more confidence, more experience, maybe more training in understanding how to deal with these specific situations when I'm coming on the big court, being expected to win 99 per cent of the matches that I play.

"But it's still there. It's still there. I don't think it's ever going to go away. Especially when the occasion is big, when you're playing for the biggest trophies."

Has the time come for a former world number one to end her wait for a first grand slam title since becoming a mother?

It is a question that has been asked time and again since Serena Williams returned in 2018 following the birth of her daughter, Alexis Olympia.

The legendary American must have long since become tired of being asked whether she can match Margaret Court's record of 24 major singles triumphs, with her last success coming when she was pregnant at the 2017 Australian Open.

While the 39-year-old - beaten in four grand slam finals after coming back to the tour - will be expected to mount a challenge over the next fortnight, it could be another mother who is celebrating at Melbourne Park.

It is eight years since Victoria Azarenka claimed her second grand slam title at the Australian Open, but the 31-year-old has shown there could be more to come.

Azarenka beat Williams for the first time in a major to reach the final of the US Open last year, but she then endured the agony of losing to Naomi Osaka.

That was her first championship match at a grand slam in seven years, having given birth to her son, Leo, late in 2016 before a prolonged child custody dispute badly disrupted her career.

A resurgent Azarenka took her tally of WTA Tour singles titles to 21 by winning the Western and Southern Open last August and was named the Comeback Player of the Year for 2020, as she headed back towards the peak of her powers.

The world number 13 claimed both of her grand slam titles at the Australian Open and will face Jessie Pegula in the first round next week.

Azarenka said she is enjoying her tennis more than ever and Michael Joyce, her former coach, believes she has a great chance of making a dream start to the year.

Joyce, who also coached Pegula, told Stats Perform News: "Vika has got as good a chance as anyone in Australia. She's back at the top, where she belongs.

"She won the Western and Southern and came so close at the [US] Open. She's also had some very tough draws as she's worked her way back, so she's done incredibly well to get back where she is.

"Opponents won't want to play her. If Vika gets through a couple of rounds, she can be very dangerous. Once she gets momentum, she can be hard to stop."

The great Martina Navratilova declared after Azarenka's run to the final at Flushing Meadows that she had witnessed "a new Vika" with extra punch in her shots" and "stronger than ever before".

Azarenka's positive outlook has also been evident off the court, as she recently launched a 'Think About It' podcast series, in which she engaged in in-depth conversations with the likes of motivational guru Trevor Moawad and professional rock climber Sasha DiGiulian.

The aim of the series was for Azarenka and her audience to learn from 'power players' in a variety of industries and show the strength that can be forged from vulnerability.

Azarenka's rivals may be feeling vulnerable in Melbourne as they think about how to go about beating the Belarus-born star.

Rafael Nadal has history in his sights, but Novak Djokovic stands in his way at an Australian Open he has almost made his own.

With Roger Federer absent from the year's first grand slam, all eyes in the men's draw will be on Nadal and Djokovic.

As the fight between the 'Big Three' continues as to who will finish their career with the most majors, Melbourne shapes as again playing a key part, particularly amid the ongoing uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic. After winning his 13th French Open last year, the equation is simple for Nadal. His success at Roland Garros drew him level with Federer on 20 majors, the most by a man all-time.

But with the GOAT debate sure to continue for decades to come, a second title in Melbourne would also lift the Spaniard into uncharted territory. Nadal has the chance to become the first man in the Open Era to win every grand slam at least twice. Federer and Djokovic are both missing a second crown at Roland Garros.

For all his dominance in Paris, that would add another feather to the cap for 34-year-old Nadal. Most of Federer's major success has come at Wimbledon (eight titles), while Djokovic's has been at the Australian Open (also eight titles) – both establishing men's records at those tournaments. Nadal has been runner-up four times in Melbourne since his only title in 2009, while he has reached at least the quarter-finals in the past four years.

But just as Nadal, who is dealing with a back injury ahead of the tournament, stands in the way at the French Open, he will need to get past Djokovic – or have some luck – in Australia.

The Serbian has a 75-8 win-loss record at the tournament, including winning the past two titles. He has won the crown every time he has reached the semi-finals. Djokovic's previous blip in Melbourne came in 2017 and 2018, surprisingly beaten by Denis Istomin (second round) and Chung Hyeon (fourth round) respectively.

A year younger than Nadal, Djokovic is a 17-time grand slam champion, and he has made no secret of his desire to hold the record for most majors won by a man. Djokovic and Nadal have claimed nine of the past 10 majors, although the other one came recently as Dominic Thiem clinched last year's US Open, where the Spaniard and Federer were absent.

With preparations impacted by COVID-19, perhaps Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev or Andrey Rublev could threaten as the wait goes on for a changing of the guard in men's tennis.

But all eyes are unsurprisingly on Nadal and Djokovic as history again beckons.

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