Nadal, the 2009 champion at Melbourne Park, beat Alex Kuznetsov 6-4, 6-1, 6-1. He played with his right knee heavily taped, but the shoulder that hampered his play in the latter part of 2011 appeared to not trouble him.
“That’s in the past,” Nadal said when asked about his injuries in a postmatch television interview.
Defending champion Clijsters opened with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Portuguese qualifier Maria Joao Koehler, showing no signs of the hip spasms that forced her to withdraw from a tuneup event in Brisbane 10 day ago.Four-time champion Roger Federer and women’s No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki were aiming to join them in the second round when they played matches later Monday at Rod Laver Arena.
Li Na, who lost the Australian final to Clijsters last year, had a 6-3, 6-1 win over Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan. In the first featured match of the tournament, third-seeded Victoria Azarenka won 12 straight games to finish off Heather Watson 6-1, 6-0 in 67 minutes in the opening match on center court.
The Hisense Arena crowd was solidly behind Nadal, particularly the groups of young women who screamed and whistled when he changed his shirt and yelled “We love you Rafa” and “Vamos Rafa!” between games. He didn’t give them a chance to cheer for long, needing only about 30 minutes each to win the final two sets.
Clijsters similarly had an easy time in the second half of her match, breaking Koehler’s serve in the deciding game of the first set and reeling off 13 straight points to start the second.
She claimed later that the win wasn’t as easy as it looked.
“It was hard to really get a good rhythm out there,” Clijsters said. “I did feel like I was seeing the ball probably not always as good as I would like to.”
She said she’d dealt with the “emotions and stress” of her hip injury, claiming she was lucky even to get a few warmup matches in Brisbane.
Li was a trailblazer for China last year, reaching a Grand Slam singles final for the first time before losing to Clijsters at Melbourne Park. At the next major, she won the French Open to become the first player from China to win a Grand Slam singles title.
“I hope I can go one better this year,” Li said of her Australian Open campaign. She had a confidence-boosting buildup that included match wins at the Hopman Cup and Sydney.
Of the six women who can reach the top ranking, eighth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska has the biggest task, having to win the Australian title. She had a battle on her hands just to make the second round, fending off American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-7 (10), 6-4, 6-2 in a three-hour match on Show Court 2.
Other women advancing included No. 16-seeded Peng Shuai of China, No. 20 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, No. 22 Julia Goerges of Germany, No. 26 Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain and Eleni Daniilidou of Greece beat 41-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan 6-3, 6-2.
No. 19 Flavia Pennetta, No. 23 Lucie Safarova and No. 28 Yanina Wickmayer were among the first-round losers.
Most of the local attention Monday was on 19-year-old Bernard Tomic, who rallied from two sets down to beat No. 22-seeded Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2, 7-5. A five-set win over the 2009 semifinalist will no doubt give Tomic a confidence boost as he attempts to become the first Australian man since 1976 to win the national title.
“Today wasn’t fun, it was torture,” said Tomic, who reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year. “I don’t know how I found the energy to lift, how I did it, but I thank the crowd.”
Eighth-seeded Mardy Fish, the highest ranked U.S. male, had a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win over Gilles Muller to progress along with 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, No. 7 Tomas Berdych, No. 10 Nicolas Almagro, No. 13 Alexandr Dolgopolov, No. 18 Feliciano Lopez, No. 21 Stanislas Wawrinka and No. 30 Kevin Anderson.
No. 25 Juan Monaco, No. 28 Ivan Ljubicic and No. 31 Jurgen Melzer joined Verdasco as other seeded players to lose.
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