MELBOURNE, Australia – Roger Federer returned from a six-month layoff to beat fellow 35-year-old Jürgen Melzer just before midnight on day one of the Australian Open, agreeing it felt a bit like coming home.
The 17-time major winner hadn’t played at tour level since Wimbledon, giving his injured left knee time to heal.
He served 19 aces and had only one double-fault in a 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 win on Monday over Melzer, but dropped serve three times and had moments of frustration.
“It’s nice to be playing normal tennis again,” he said. “It was a long road [but] I’m in the draw, which is a beautiful thing.”
Federer surprised himself by still feeling nervous when the match started, and took a while to settle down.
“I was fine all day … I felt fine. Then I hit four frames in a row,” he said. “It was like, ‘Whew, it’s not as easy as I thought it was going to be,’” he said. “Think I struggled for a while to find that groove, that rhythm.”
Federer has won four Australian titles and reached the semifinals or better in 12 of the previous 13 years, and making himself at home on Rod Laver Arena.
He’ll play another qualifier in the second round after Noah Rubin beat Bjorn Fratangelo.
Plenty of highly-ranked players concurred that first rounds are never easy, including defending champion and top-ranked Angelique Kerber and U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka.
In his first Grand Slam match with the elevated status of having a knighthood and the No. 1 ranking, Andy Murray berated himself when he made mistakes and frequently yelled during a 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-2 win over Illya Marchenko.
In other words, nothing much has changed.
The five-time finalist comfortably navigated what he hoped was the first step to a drought-breaking Australian Open title.
Kerber, who is defending a major title and is also the No. 1 seed at a Grand Slam for the first time, had some nervous moments in her 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 win over Lesia Tsurenko.
Kerber won her first Grand Slam title here last year, beating Serena Williams in the final after saving match point in the first round.
So after wasting a match point before her serve was broken as Tsurenko rallied to win the second set, Kerber said her mind raced back 12 months.
“To be honest, I was thinking about this,” she said. “When I lost the second set, and I had match point, I was thinking about my match last year in the first round — first rounds are always tough.”
Murray has lost four of the last six finals here — including the last two — to six-time champion Novak Djokovic. But he did take something off his long-time friend at the end of last year when he replaced Djokovic in the top ranking during a stunning finish to the season.
He subsequently received a knighthood in Queen Elizabeth II’s New Year’s honors list.
Murray said the ranking and the civic honors won’t change anything, and he faces “the same pressure, same expectations.”
There’s one thing he desperately wants to change.
“I’ve never won here — I’m going to try to change that this year,” he said.
Wawrinka, who made his Grand Slam breakthrough in Australia in 2014, had a tough time in the first night match on Margaret Court Arena, scraping past 35th-ranked Martin Kližan 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.
In the ninth game of the fifth set, Wawrinka smashed a soft half-volley from Kližan straight back into the Slovakian’s body, clipping the frame and just missing his midsection. He stepped over the net to ensure Kližan was OK, then went on to hold serve and broke in the next game to finish off in 3 hours, 24 minutes.
No. 5 Kei Nishikori also needed 3.5 hours to beat Andrey Kuznetsov 7-5, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6), 6-2, while No. 14 Nick Kyrgios returned from his suspension for underperforming in Shanghai last year by racing through a 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win over Gastao Elias in 85 minutes.
Former U.S. Open champion Marin Čilić, 2008 Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 19 John Isner, No. 23 Jack Sock, No. 27 Bernard Tomic, No. 29 Viktor Troicki and No. 31 Sam Querrey.
No. 16 Lucas Pouille was the highest-ranked man to lose on day one.
Five of the women’s seeds lost on the opening day, led by No. 4 Simona Halep, who lost 6-3, 6-1 to Shelby Rogers in the first match on Rod Laver Arena.
French Open champion Garbine Muguruza needed a medical timeout before advancing 7-5, 6-4 over Marina Erakovic.
Seven-time major winner Venus Williams beat Kateryna Kozlova 7-6 (5), 7-5, avoiding back-to-back first-round exits at Melbourne Park, and 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard continued her recent resurgence by winning the last of the night matches 6-0, 6-4 against Louisa Chirico in 56 minutes.
Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig, No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 10 Carla Suárez, No. 11 Elina Svitolina, No. 20 Zhang Shuai were among the other seeded players advancing.
CoCo Vandeweghe overcame a bout of nausea to beat No. 15-seeded Roberta Vinci 6-1, 7-6 (3).
The 16-year-old Destanee Aiava became the first player born in this millennium to play in the main draw of a major, but the milestone match ended in a 6-3, 7-6 (4) loss to Mona Barthel.