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Monday, January 18, 2010
Line judge interference doesn't faze Roddick

Here are five things we learned on Day 1 in Australia:

1. The Aussie summer isn't always nice

Melbourne this time of the year usually provides respite for North Americans and Europeans tired of winter. Not Monday.

OK, there was no snow, not even close to it, but the daytime high hovered around a cool 66 degrees with intermittent rain. Winds, which topped 25 mph, made things chillier.

Play was suspended on outer courts at least four times, with only a smattering of encounters completed.

Isolated showers are expected for Tuesday, and the breezy conditions are expected to persist through Friday.

It was so different days ago. Melbourne residents encountered a heat wave, with temperatures soaring above 104 degrees and the city registering its highest overnight minimum temperature of just more than 86 degrees.

2. A-Rod is in fine form

Andy Roddick had fewer problems with the weather, since he was playing at the roofed Hisense Arena, and eased past fast-improving Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 in a potentially tricky first-round clash.

It's the refs who gave Roddick a problem. He tripped over the foot of a line judge in the first set, although Roddick said afterward he wasn't injured. He has only recently returned from a knee injury.

"He wasn't really trying to do much to get out of the way," Roddick said. "Normally they see a player running full speed and they decide to at least move or catch the player. I felt like he was trying out for WWE or something."

Later, Roddick stayed comedian when asked who takes care of his dog when he and celeb wife Brooklyn Decker are away from home in Austin, Texas.

"Who takes care of my dog when I'm away? Questions I didn't think I was going to get today," he said. "My dog is at the in-laws right now. Sometimes when I leave, the dog wants to stay in Austin, because it just tells us, and my friend who graduated from Dartmouth takes care of it, takes it out thrice daily, e-mails us updates."

The place cracked up.

Only two other Americans finished their matches. Wayne Odesnik caught a break when a late withdrawal meant he faced Slovenian qualifier Blaz Kavcic instead of the surging John Isner. Odesnik, ranked 89th, took advantage, advancing 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 for his first Grand Slam win since the 2008 French Open.

Veteran Michael Russell competed well but failed to fully expose Juan Martin del Potro's ailing wrist, falling 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 to the U.S. Open champ.

3. Revenge is indeed sweet

Ivo Karlovic, the gentle 6-foot-10 Croatian giant, served a record 78 aces but still lost to versatile Czech Radek Stepanek in a six-hour slugfest in September's Davis Cup semifinals.

They played another five-setter Monday, and this time Karlovic prevailed 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. The ace count was considerably lower, 34, as was the duration, 3 hours, 56 minutes. But with all the rain breaks, it ended at about 6:15 p.m. local time after starting at 11 a.m.

Stepanek, who lost to Roddick at a warm-up in Brisbane, capitulated in the final game, chipping in a double fault and two unforced errors. Karlovic got fortunate when a mishit backhand turned into a fine lob to set up three match points. Karlovic, in the quarter of defending champ Rafael Nadal, saved a break point with an ace at 2-2 in the decider.

A pumped Karlovic stayed on Court 6 to sign autographs for a flurry of Croatian fans, mirroring Taylor Dent at last year's U.S. Open.

Yanina Wickmayer, the dark horse among the Belgians, edged Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru 1-6, 7-5, 10-8 in a women's thriller that lasted 3½ hours on Margaret Court Arena.

Things were much easier for ever-improving Spaniard Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. The 24th seed fed Russian Evgeniya Rodina a double bagel in 54 minutes, hitting a paltry two unforced errors.

4. Safina is rusty

Dinara Safina didn't have much time to practice in the offseason courtesy of a back injury that made backhands almost impossible to hit. So it was no surprise when the world No. 2 lost in the quarterfinals at a tuneup in Sydney last week.

Safina got a rough draw in the first round, but edged promising 21-year-old Slovak Magdalena Rybarikova 6-4, 6-4.

The turning point came deep in the first set. Rybarikova, who won her first title in 2009 and is ranked 47th, failed to convert game points in the ninth game, then wasted break points at 4-5. Chance gone.

Safina claims she's refreshed following a physically and mentally tiring 2009, a year remembered more for three crushing losses in Grand Slams rather than ascending to No. 1.

"At the end of last year I was tired, exhausted, like I had no more fun on the court," Safina said. "But now I feel like I'm back and fine, enjoying every moment on court. That was missing a little bit last year."

Safina has a nice draw through to the quarterfinals, given Maria Sharapova's upset loss Monday.

5. Murray loves big servers

Andy Murray is one of the best returners around.

Murray, still seeking his Grand Slam breakthrough, cruised past another big server, South African Kevin Anderson, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in 97 minutes at Rod Laver Arena. He's lost to players on a roll in Melbourne the past two years, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in '08 and Fernando Verdasco in '07.

Murray's first real test might come in the third round, against old foe Jurgen Melzer, the talented hit-and-miss lefty from Austria.

Murray altered his build-up to the Australian Open this year, heading to the Hopman Cup in Perth the first week of January instead of the Qatar Open. He also has fewer people in his entourage.

There's no girlfriend, for instance, after splitting with Kim Sears.