Federer cruises in opener; Djokovic downs Becker

Updated: January 15, 2008, 9:05 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Top-ranked Roger Federer showed no lasting effects from a nasty stomach bug, routing Diego Hartfield of Argentina 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 Tuesday to open his quest of a third consecutive Australian Open title.

The illness forced Federer to pull out of last week's exhibition tournament at Kooyong, interrupting his preparations as he seeks to pull within one of Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam championships.

"I'm very happy to be back playing," Federer said. "I'm not sick very often so it was a bit of a scare."

Playing a match on the new blue Plexicushion surface in Rod Laver Arena for the first time, he looked just a tad rusty in the first game, with Hartfield getting his only break-point opportunity.

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The Swiss star, dressed in all black, quickly found his form and began ripping winners from all over the court, quashing any suggestions that he might be vulnerable for an early upset.

On a perfect night for tennis, Federer was often perfect, running off the first nine games and the last seven. He finished off the match with his 11th ace. With 38 winners and just 14 unforced errors -- none in the third set -- he compiled twice as many points as Hartfield, 84-42.

"I was playing well in practice, moving well, serving well," Federer said. "I knew that, with the full crowd, I'll play even better. And with the adrenaline rush, you push yourself even more.

"So I knew I'll come out here tonight and probably play pretty good, you know. But the result was that extreme, I didn't expect that. But I'm really happy about it. Wish it was like this every night."

Hartfield was left in awe.

[+] EnlargeRoger Federer
AP Photo/Mark BakerRoger Federer served a pair of bagels to Diego Hartfield, shutting him out in two of three sets at the Australian Open on Tuesday.

"I had to play perfect to have a chance to make it tight," he said. "I was trying to play my tennis, believe I can win. Right at the beginning, I can see I had no chance. He did everything so good.

"I can't imagine how it's possible to beat him if he plays like this."In other action on Tuesday, third-ranked Novak Djokovic was called upon to entertain thew crowd as well as play.

After Djokovic beat Benjamin Becker 6-0, 6-2, 7-6 (5) Tuesday in his first-round match, the television commentator implored Djokovic to do one of his impressions of another player -- specifically Maria Sharapova -- that have generated huge attention on YouTube.

At first, he resisted -- "I don't want to offend anybody," he said.

But he soon gave in and did a reasonable imitation, right down to the Russian player's tendency to brush strands of her long blonde hair back over her ears as she prepares to serve.

The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

"She's OK with it," he said.

There was proof at the U.S. Open, when Sharapova showed up to root for Djokovic in the final a few days after he imitated her at that tournament.

[+] EnlargeNovak Djokovic
Mark Dadswell/Getty ImagesThird-ranked Novak Djokovic needed just 22 minutes to take the first set from Benjamin Becker.

Third-ranked Djokovic raced through the first set in just 22 minutes, generating sympathy for underdog Becker, who couldn't seem to find anything that worked and won only three points on his serve.

About the only pain that Djokovic suffered early was self-inflicted. He had to call for the trainer after the fifth game to treat a small cut on his left knee from hitting himself with his racket.

Becker, looking increasingly disconsolate and frustrated, got a loud ovation when he held to win his first game. But Djokovic ran off the last four games of the second set.

The third set turned into a struggle.

"I lost my momentum," Djokovic said. "I almost lost that third set, then who knows what would happen?"

Becker broke for the first and only time in the first game at love on a rash of Djokovic errors, including a bad mis-hit on game point. Djokovic leveled the set at 2 when Becker double-faulted on break point.

Becker won the first three points of the tiebreaker. He got an ace on a challenge of a line call to make it 5-5, but sent two forehands wide to finish the match.

The loss continued a stretch of five consecutive first-round exits at Grand Slams for Becker since his upset over Andre Agassi in the fourth round at the 2006 U.S. Open -- the last match of Agassi's career.

Meanwhile, Australia's Lleyton Hewitt advanced to the second round with an easy 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 victory over Belgium's Steve Darcis. The former world No. 1, who had a poor buildup to the year's first Grand Slam with early exits in Adelaide and Sydney, barely needed to get out of first gear and broke the 23-year-old at will.

[+] EnlargeLleyton Hewitt
Mark Dadswell/Getty Images Australia's Lleyton Hewitt advanced to the second round with a 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 victory over Belgium's Steve Darcis.

Darcis only held serve twice in the match. The only other game he won was when he broke Hewitt's serve in the fifth game of the second set. Hewitt intimidated the Belgian, making his first appearance in the tournament, from the outset on Rod Laver Arena, and forced him into 21 errors, particularly on his backhand.

The Australian did not let out his trademark fist pump and "C'Mon" until the fourth game of the second set, though it was doubtful whether he needed much crowd support to provide the inspiration required to dispatch his 83rd-ranked opponent.

Elsewhere, No. 10 seed David Nalbandian recovered from back spasms that forced him out of the Kooyong exhibition last week to beat Australian Robert Smeets 6-1, 6-1, 7-6 (3).

Fifth seeded David Ferrer beat Edouard Roger-Vasselin 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 and Dutch player Robin Haase ousted No. 17 Ivan Ljubicic 6-7 (2) 6-3, 6-0, 7-6, (1).

Marcos Baghdatis, the 2006 runner-up, beat 2002 champion Thomas Johansson 7-6 (0), 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 and Amer Delic beat fellow American Robert Kendrick 6-4, 7-5, 6-2.

Other men advancing included No. 21 Juan Monaco of Argentina and No. 25 Fernando Verdasco of Spain.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.